Greater Washington County food bank along Route 40 near Centerville

Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.

Giving Tuesday, an annual worldwide event, provides people with an opportunity to come together on one day to donate to nonprofits.

Among the local nonprofits is Greater Washington County Food Bank, which is facing a 400% increase in food need among Washington County residents.

The Food Bank, which operates 49 food pantries, is hoping Giving Tuesday, #GivingTuesdayNow, traditionally held in November but moved to May 5 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will raise much needed funds.

On Giving Tuesday, individuals are encouraged to donate, help a neighbor, advocate for an issue, or take other actions on behalf of first responders and frontline workers, including the nonprofits serving the people most affected by the pandemic.

As unemployment numbers climb, the food bank has continued to provide fresh produce, bakery items, personal hygiene items and shelf stable staples to people facing emergency food needs.

With the state-wide shutdown orders in place until May 8, staff members at the food bank are not expecting things to get any better through May.

“We have distributed close to 200,000 pounds of food in April through our Truck to Trunk drive-thru distributions,” said Lorraine Johnson, pantry liaison. “This is four times what we typically see, and more than double what we anticipated when this began.”

Johnson said the COVID-19 pandemic is testing the food bank’s capacity, but the nonprofit has been able to meet the need.

The food bank needs to raise at least $200,000 in May to ensure no one in need is turned away.

“We thank all of the donors who made this possible in April,” Johnson said.

How can the community help the food bank raise money?

In addition to donations, the food bank suggests individuals and organizations host virtual food drives, combined with the social media #Unselfie movement, to raise funds around the day of giving.

The virtual food drives provide an alternative for individuals and organizations that hold traditional food drives.

People set the goals for the amount they want to raise through their virtual food drives, and donors can make online donations.

Justin McAtee, director of marketing for the food bank and manager of the Virtual Food Drives, said the online food drives and Unselfie movement allows everyone to help — that includes people with connections and funds to contribute, as well as food bank clients who do not have the means to donate, but love the nonprofit’s mission and want to help.

The Unselfie movement has been around since 2013 and has helped several organizations get their message out. People take a picture, or tell why they support the cause, tag it #unselfie, and upload to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

The Greater Washington County Food Bank hopes in the time of COVID-19, when people cannot gather for other fundraisers, this and the Virtual Food Drives will pull the community together to help feed their neighbors.

Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.