Residents in about a thousand Virginia Beach homes will find a green bag hanging from their door Sunday morning as part of a new food drive initiative that harnesses technology to make it easier to give.
The program, called “We Feed Virginia Beach,” is an expansion of a pilot project in Norfolk that describes itself as “If ‘Uber’ and Food Bank had a baby.” The goal is a simple one:
“Let’s make it incredibly easy for people to give food,” said Dave Richards, the man who started the initiative.
Richards is the CEO of Concursive, a technology company in Norfolk that develops networking and community-building software. He came up with the idea to partner with the local food bank while thinking up ways to use his technology to help the community. That led to the We Feed Norfolk mobile app and a webpage at norfolkconnected.com.
The rest was easy, he said.
“We pass out a whole bunch of bags to a neighborhood and we get volunteers to pick it up,” he said. “And we’ll use technology to make the process efficient.”
The first drive was in July in Norfolk. Richards said his goal in the first neighborhood was to get a participation rate of five to 10 percent and an average donation of five pounds of food. He said he was shocked when they got 25 percent to donate and an average donation of 10 pounds of food.
“We show up with 1,000 bags and fliers and pass them out to every home in that area,” Richards said. “And then we tell people that next Sunday we’re coming back to pick it up.”
In Virginia Beach, the first part of the program will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday. Volunteers will meet at the Rosemont Boys & Girls Club and then disperse throughout the Buckner Farms neighborhood, hanging bags on the doors. Volunteers will return Saturday to hand out reminder fliers about the scheduled pick-up on Nov. 8.
To participate, residents fill up their bag with as much food as they want to give, check-in on an app to let organizers know the food is ready and leave the donation at their door for pickup. The app will drop a pin on a map so volunteers can see where to stop and get the food. The app also reminds users of the pickup times.
Virginia Beach Councilwoman Shannon Kane has been working with Beach Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence and other school officials to get some of the food from the drive to go to the school district’s Beach Bag program.
The Beach Bag initiative distributes bags every other week to economically disadvantaged students so they have food over the weekend. The donations are kept discreet by putting them in paper bags inside backpacks. Last year 8,476 bags were delivered, according to school officials.
“If children are hungry, they’re not able to learn,” Kane said.
Each “Beach Bag” contains two cereal boxes, two boxes of shelf-stable milk, two main course, non-perishable items such as macaroni and cheese, two fruit cups or juice boxes and two snacks, such as granola bars.
Kane and Richards said all of the food they gather from the We Feed Virginia Beach drive will go first to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, since that is the largest collection site, but that a portion that meets the Beach Bag requirements will go to that program. School officials confirmed they are working with the We Feed initiative to further combine their efforts.
In Norfolk, the city has partnered with Richards and his company to help fund some of his program’s costs, including the purchase of the bags. Richards said he hopes they can partner with Virginia Beach as well if the pilot project there is successful.
Richards said he plans to hold collections two to three times a year, especially in the summer when food shortages are the worst.
Anyone interesting in joining the We Feed program or volunteering can go to wefeed.us.