Seven Loaves - shopping for a community
You are probably here because you like to shop. Shopping for a cause can be an extra incentive.
Imagine shopping for a growing community of families needing food during a pandemic lockdown. At Seven Loaves, Director Carleigh Underwood, 30, does that day after day and in a way that makes clients of the inter-faith food pantry feel welcome and valued. After five years with the pantry, the Middleburg native is an expert on the hidden world of food insecurity in more than a dozen counties of Northern Virginia, some among the wealthiest in the nation.
“Poverty is a domino effect,” she explains, “You can be fine one day, but just one medical emergency away from needing help.” Demand ebbs and flows with the seasons and the price of gas, she says. The rising cost of gas cuts into the food budget. She has watched the community of clients change and swell in the last year. “We had to take our welcoming environment outside,” she says. People pull into the ample parking lot and remain in their cars while the staff brings bags to them. Seven Loaves expanded home delivery last year for those who could no longer come out.
Carleigh and her small staff of dedicated volunteers also have created a network of food providers, from grocery stores, farmers and farmers’ markets, a community farm, community and church donation boxes and the U.S. Emergency Food Assistance Program. They are also part of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
In 2020, they served 270,874 pounds of food to 377 families in almost 5,000 visits.
It all comes together in the back of the United Methodist Church on Washington Avenue in the heart of Middleburg.
Open to the public three mornings a week, fresh, nutritious food for one family can be picked up once a week and includes eggs, milk, yogurt, a variety of produce, meat, bread, bakery items, dry goods, baby food and pet food. No appointment or referral is needed and they registered people from 20 counties last year. They do not ask questions about family resources. Carleigh estimates they get 70 cars each distribution day. They also partner with other pantries or shelters that may need food. “We serve a lot more than people coming to the door,” says Carleigh.
The Seven Loaves crew members are connoisseurs of “the little things that bring people joy.” There’s a shelf of beautifully wrapped birthday baskets and special baskets with toys for children at each of the holidays. The pantry workers also take notice of religious and ethnic preferences, which mean switching out the makeup of bags to substitute appropriate food choices. One week every month, they distribute USDA food, which carries certain strictures.
“I don’t do it because it makes me feel good,” says the passionate director. “Because it’s my community, that’s what fuels my fire.”
To learn more this marketplace for social good, go to www.sevenloavesmiddleburg.org.