Coronavirus can’t stop the resource council

The Louisa County Resource Council is $50,000 closer to completing its fourth warehouse. The timing couldn’t be better, given the recent spike in people who need help. 

When the new warehouse is finished, it will provide space for the resource council and the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, which is currently in the medical building on Woolfolk Avenue. The Louisa County Board of Supervisors voted at their May 4 meeting to donate $50,000 to finish the warehouse project.  

Lloyd Runnett, executive director for the resource council, told board members at their May 18 meeting that “we’ve never had anything happen like we have in the past two months.”

In the first week of the coronavirus crisis, he said, people were panicked. 

“It was very scary. There were elderly people who came to us frightened about what they were seeing and what they were hearing. So, in a calm voice and the right demeanor, we said kind words and gave food. And since then, things have really settled down.”

The resource council is providing food for about 30 percent more people each month than it would in normal times. Many of those people were donating money to the organization just a few months before, but because of unfortunate circumstances, they now find themselves needing help. 

“We have people in line that weren’t in line two months ago. They’re friends of yours, and friends of mine,” he told the board. “These are working people who are unemployed and they are trying to feed their families.” 

According to Runnett, the resource council went nearly three weeks into the crisis before getting its first significant food donation. During that time, “our pantry shelves were getting pretty bare. But people really stepped up, particularly the faith-based community.” 

Runnett explained to the board that he tried to buy additional food through  sources such as Walmart, but was “shut down.” They had “nothing to give and nothing to sell.”

“Fortunately, we had enough [food stored in] warehouses to [fulfill clients’ needs]. The day we were running out, we got our first load of food.”

Runnett and his team of staff members and volunteers have moved from an internal operation handling 1,300 to 1,500 families each month to an external drive-through program. It’s a solution that Runnett is especially proud of.

The council was the “first in the country” to implement a drive-through model, he said. Since then, he has received numerous requests from peers all over the country asking how to implement something similar in their communities. Runnett credits his staff and volunteers for the program’s success.

“Our people have really stepped up in our community. LC is a pretty cool place to live,” he said. 

When Runnett took the position of executive director five years ago, volunteers served an average of 300 hours each month. Now, they complete an average of 1,000 hours a month, reaching 1,700 recently.

“It’s just incredible,” he said. “It really shows the community has stepped up.” 

Runnett’s also happy with the support he’s receiving from local food suppliers now that their supply chains have freed up a bit. As an example, Runnett shared with the board that Walmart has donated 200,000 pounds of food in the past month, which has been a “big, big help,” he said. 

Food isn’t the only reason people are reaching out to the resource council. 

In the past month, Runnett said he’s referred at least 220 people to other agencies for assistance such as housing and rent. Typically, he refers only 60 to 70 a month. 

“We know that about one in three needs some kind of help,” he said. “Last month, we helped 29 new families, while most of the people we serve are repeat clients.”

“We know this isn’t a sprint, it’s not even a mid-level race, it’s a marathon,” he told the board. 

In the next phase of Runnett’s plan, the resource council will transition to curbside service while continuing to focus on safely protecting staff, volunteers and clients. Starting the day after Memorial Day, clients will become more engaged in the process by picking up their food from a window and placing the items in their own vehicle. After they return their carts, staff will disinfect them so they are ready for the next client to use. 

Runnett told the board that construction crews are preparing to pour concrete for the fourth warehouse and they’ve already installed pipes in the ground. The project is on track for completion in the fall. 

Last updated on May 25 at 1:58 p.m.

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