ZestFest – Eat To Feed The Hungry

by Charles McGuigan

During an exceptional communion each year, hundreds gather to break the best of bread and by so doing feed many others.

In a nutshell: that’s what ZestFest is.

“It’s our one gala of the year for fundraising and since food is our business food is the centerpiece,” says Gayle Haglund,  vice president of philanthropy with the Central Virginia Food Bank.

This year, according to Gayle, the Food Bank hopes to raise about $175,000 from ZestFest. Which is a comparative drop in the bucket for this organization whose mission is to feed central Virginians who are without food.

“We know as a fact that there are some 250,000 people in central Virginia who are food insecure,” Gayle says.  Central Virginia, encompassing 31 counties along with Richmond and the tri-cities, inscribes a wide crescent that starts in the Northern Neck and sweeps down clear to South Boston.

The number of folks without food in central Virginia grows year by year at an alarming rate. For the past three years the number of referrals has increased by fifty percent every year. Over the last two and half years the amount of food distributed has grown by about one million pounds each year. Last year, FeedMore doled out upwards of 16.5 million pounds of food.

Along with raising funds for these programs, ZestFest is also a reminder. “We draw attention to the fact that so many people in our area are without food or they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” says Gayle. “We will put food into the hands of 125,000 people a month.”

In addition to the Food Bank, the Community Kitchen and Meals on Wheels FeedMore also sponsors Kids Café. “We provide dinners for children at a variety of locations,” Gayle tells me. “We also provide food packs for the weekend where children are given eighteen items they can open for themselves and eat. Milk and cereal, pasta and meatballs, individual servings of fruit, vegetables with pop top lids, juice boxes and assorted snacks.”  Without these provisions, many children would not eat at all over the long weekend.

The bulk of the food handled by FeedMore comes from the Food Bank which distributes groceries through 426 partner agencies, from homeless shelters to food pantries.  And much of the food is donated by area grocery stores including Whole Foods Market, Farm Fresh, Kroger, WalMart, Food Lion, Trader Joe’s, Martin’s and Ellwood Thompson’s.

“Our annual budget is $10 million a year, not including the value of donated food,” says Gayle. Add in the donated food and that number skyrockets to $29 million annually.

And of course everything at ZestFest—food, wine and service—is donated by more than 20 local restaurants and wineries.

Of both the chefs and the wineries Gayle says, “They make a stunning donation.”

ZestFest beins at six in the evening on February 19 at the Richmond Convention Center with hors d’oeuvres and a raffle drawing which is followed by dinner and an open bar and then a live auction and yet another raffle drawing.  Top prizes include a trip for two to Napa Valley and a trip for two to Barcelona. Tickets for this rare feast are $150 per person.

“And here’s the thing,” says Gayle. “We’ll have a marvelous time and the next day we’ll be hungry and we will know that the people we take care of will go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry.”

Governor Bob McDonnell will attend a pre-event. “The governor has been a tremendous supporter for hunger relief and family causes,” Gayle says. “His family has come in to volunteer for many, many years. And that was a long time before Governor McDonnell ran for office.”

Russell Cook, of Balliceaux, is one of the many local chefs who will be volunteering his time and donating his food to ZestFest this year. He’ll be offering his specialty bacons with accompanying sauces.             When I ask why he’s volunteering, Russell says, “That’s a no-brainer. People are hungry. And people need to be fed.” Russell’s wife, Mary Lou Hall has been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels for years now.

“Over the years I’ve seen thousands of pounds of food thrown out because it can’t be given away,” he says. “And I know there are people who are hungry.”

Gayle Haglund echoes these sentiments. “More food is tilled back into the soil each year than it would take to feed everyone in America,” she says. “The resources in this country are they’re. FeedMore is looking for a cure for hunger.”

Unlike other corporate vice presidents, Gayle would like to see a time when her company is no longer needed. “When hunger is cured, we’d like to go out of business,” she says.

So help Gayle realize this dream by feeding the hungry while you feed yourself at ZestFest.  For more information contact Kristin VanStory at (804) 549-5663 or kvanstory@feedmore.org.

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