Cultivate Charlottesville, in collaboration with the City of Charlottesville and other community partners, has launched a 24/7 text hotline to connect central Virginians with food resources in their area.
The text hotline has been in the works since July 2020, said Daisy Mosqueda, a fellow for Food Justice Network, which is a branch of Cultivate Charlottesville that focuses on racial equity in the food system.
Confusion around changing food pantry hours prompted the initiative, which offers a central hub for community members to find available food resources.
“We wanted to keep in mind that a lot of community members might not have access to reliable internet, they might not have access to a computer, and even if they do, they might not know how to navigate it,” Mosqueda said. “We wanted there to be another more accessible way to access this information.”
Since it launched earlier this year, 180 people have used the hotline. It can be accessed by texting “FOOD” — or “COMIDA” for Spanish speakers — to (844) 947-6518. From there, individuals are asked via a series of text prompts for their zip code and the day of the week they are looking for food resources.
The hotline then connects them with nearby food resources — like the Holy Comforter Food Pantry or the Haven. Mosqueda said 35 food pantries are currently represented through the service.
The hotline is available in Charlottesville as well as in Albemarle, Augusta, Louisa, Fluvanna, Nelson, Greene and Buckingham counties.
According to Feeding America, 11.8% of Charlottesville residents faced food insecurity in 2018 — a statistic that has only been amplified by the economic impact of COVID-19.
Aleen Carey, Cultivate Charlottesville’s outreach and resource program director, said the initiative will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What Daisy has worked on is going to make it, down the road, easier for people to find their way to resources. It’s not just a COVID thing,” Carey said. “As long as we can fund it. Afterward, we can still use it to try and link people up to the resources that they need.”
She added that the text hotline is just one piece of Cultivate Charlottesville and its partners’ work — like the Food Equity Initiative, which aims to create policy aimed toward solving food insecurity in Charlottesville in partnership with city government. Ending food insecurity through policy involves solutions beyond food pantries, Carey said.
“There’s a huge intersection of the ways that food access and food equity come to be. It’s not just food banks — that’s not enough. You have to look at transportation … living wage, affordable housing,” Carey said.
Mosqueda said that transportation access has been a hurdle to some people using the text hotline, but another community organization, Sin Barreras, is working on a program to deliver food pantry items to households.
Mosqueda plans to further improve the text hotline based on user feedback. Potential improvements include simplifying and personalizing the text interactions.
Cultivate Charlottesville encourages those who use the text hotline to fill out a feedback form to share their experience with the service.