How L&F Partner PB&J Fund Pivoted During the Pandemic

March 2020 started out warm, following another mild Winter in the Piedmont. Speculation about a late snowstorm was beginning to fade while news about a new novel coronavirus was trending on social media. The growing threat of a global pandemic was as palpable as a gust of wind ahead of an approaching storm.

Alex London-Gross, Executive Director of the PB&J Fund, was busy with her staff, on an early Friday morning. They were preparing for a planned, but temporary, closure of city schools in preparation for the pandemic, should conditions worsen.

And then, with the governor’s Executive Order 51 on March 13, everything changed.

PB&J Fund is an organization, whose very name makes you want to smile, but behind that name lies a deep commitment to the community. When the COVID shutdown happened, their mission to “empower children and families . . . while improving access to affordable, healthful food” put them in the eye of the storm.

In less stressful times, PB&J operates three programs: Chef for A Day, where youth acquire basic kitchen skills, Chef Kids, an after-school program that builds on those skills, and Chef Families, a program that makes cooking inexpensive healthy meals a family affair. Collectively, these programs offer numerous opportunities for families to engage with each other in a fun, educational atmosphere, but in those early days of the pandemic, with in-person activities no longer possible, PB&J had to adapt quickly.

There was some brainstorming around the question of how to ensure that children and families have the food they need? From these strategy sessions, PB&J made the decision to shift their resources to emergency food distribution. Their annual Holiday Giving program morphed into a weekly distribution of bags of fresh food and produce for local families. But more urgently, they decided to provide lunches to students on Monday, March 16, the first day of school closure when most districts did not provide breakfast or lunch. This was a big task, and it’s where Loaves and Fishes made a difference.

On a conference call, Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Jane Colony Mills connected with PB&J with an offer of help. “What can you take? How can we help?” In no time, snacks and milk boxes were on their way to PB&J, allowing 300 children to be fed. That partnership that grew out of two simple questions has strengthened as the effects of the pandemic continue to ripple throughout the community.

In a quiet moment in the midst of day to day operations, there’s an instructive lesson in the form of a quote that Alex shares. It comes from a member of the PB&J Fund community family. “This is a great program and it helps tremendously. I like fresh. It’s good, but I checked the cans because it keeps longer.” It was a simple observation illuminating the practical complexity inherent in creating a food secure household.

In partnership with Loaves & Fishes and community families, PB&J Fund is committed to helping lay the foundation for that security, by working toward a more just food system for all Charlottesville families.