At the FISH Food Pantry in Williamsburg, Virginia, the number of people coming for help in January was greater than it has been in a decade. In February, client numbers doubled that of February ’22.

Eggs prices went up 150 percent over that year and groceries, nine to 11 percent. Energy bills remained high, and then federal assistance through SNAP, the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, dropped benefits back to pre-pandemic numbers.

Experts call it a hunger cliff.

More and more families are struggling, stressing over the sudden difficult choice between paying the bills and feeding their family. For Lions like the James City Lions serving the greater Williamsburg area, it means the work they do to relieve hunger has become even more important.

Supporting hunger relief has always been a major item on the club’s budget, but it’s the Lions’ boots-on-the-ground service that many are calling a game changer. It would be difficult to find one

salvation army helpers

among the 74 members who is not helping feed their community in some way.

“We know the need is there,” says Lion Jack Trotter, a retiree who in one day last summer became the immediate past president of his club and the new president of FISH, a volunteer operated nonprofit organization that provides the food pantry, clothes, and small housewares for people in need.

“Our clients don’t want to come to FISH. They don’t want to have to come, and in a perfect world they would not have to come. But the need is there, and we see it every day,” says Trotter.

Since January, FISH has increased the amount of food being given and is trying to better utilize the food they buy from the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. Eight food shoppers – seven of them James City Lions – are “superb” at keeping stock up and adding frozen meats and vegetables, says Trotter.

Each shopper drives 30 miles once a month to the foodbank in Hampton, Virginia, to shop, loading their car with hundreds of pounds of food to bring back for distribution. Their goal is to come back with an average of one ton of food each month, says Lion Don Butts. Six hundred to 700 pounds will last just two or three days.

The club’s first hunger initiative was their Holiday Basket Project, delivering a bountiful dinner to families for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. But it didn’t take long for members to find more ways and days to serve.

At the Salvation Army in Williamsburg, Lion Steve Gohn is a board member and frequent volunteer, helping with the food they store for families, and carrying bags of food to cars during the Army’s monthly food drive that draws hundreds of people.

 “People have more month than they have money,” explains Gohn, whose parents volunteered at the Salvation Army for 50 years. “I try to help whenever they have a need, but there’s a bigger need than most people think.

“I don’t really think of it in terms of the hours. I do it to give back now that I am retired. I realize God gave me so much it’s a blessing to be able to do it and have the time to do it. Helping people is what we should be doing anyway.”

Since 2021, another group of Lions have been spending three to four hours on Monday mornings in the kitchen at Meals On Wheels (MOW) where daily hot lunches are prepared and delivered to 220 homebound elderly.

food shoppers“Pasta, casseroles, sloppy joes, spaghetti, pork loins, meatloaf, chicken …”  Lion Armen Melikian, who organizes the activity with Lion Vincent Sarro, runs through the list of entrees they prepare. Meatloaf may be the most popular, but nothing gets turned away. On one Monday, the Lions may cook 30 pounds of spaghetti and 25 pounds of meat with pasta sauce, filling six large pans that will be divided and delivered.

Some of these same Lions also help get food to children over the summer. MOW, in conjunction with the Greater Williamsburg Outreach Ministries, provides bag lunches to children who would be getting lunch at school during the rest of the year. Last summer, 45 percent of the James City Lions participated, but this year the club is aiming for 50 percent to help deliver lunches to at least 225 students five days a week at motel and apartment complexes, says Melikian. “All I have to do is ask. Lions are quick to say, ‘Sign me up.’ “

“It’s an eye opener when you see how people have to live,” says Butts. “What’s a small thing for us is a major thing for the people we help.”