How it Works

** During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Emergency Food Network will operate on Mondays and Fridays only. **

Our clients call our office in the morning between 9:00 and noon on a Monday or Friday to place an “order” that they will pick up later on that same day, between 1:30 and 3:30. New clients simply register with us by giving us their name and address and the last four digits of their Social Security number, and the same information for every member of their family, including the ages of their children. We ask for no financial information.

Our clients can be any resident of Charlottesville or Albemarle County. There are no financial requirements and we ask no personal questions.

We truly see a cross-section of our area’s population, from students to grandparents; from the homeless to those with jobs whose income doesn’t quite stretch from paycheck to paycheck; from black to white and in-between; and from recent immigrants to people here for generations.

Clients may call for food once per month. If they find themselves in dire need, they may get a referral from a social worker or a church and we will provide the food.

The amount of food each client receives depends on the size of the family. Every client receives a grocery bag (or two) filled with uniform staples such as canned tuna, beans, rice, cereal, vegetables, fruit, soup, and macaroni and cheese. In addition, we add fresh bread, milk, cheese, and margarine. A dietitian on our board approves our selection and actively works with the Emergency Food Network to ensure that our offerings are as healthy as possible.

We are very happy to be able to offer the recent addition of seasonally appropriate fresh fruits and vegetables through a partnership with the Local Food Hub. Our clients can select their choices from bins at our distribution center when they come to pick up their bag(s) of food.

To ensure that this system works and everything is in the right place at the right time, we have a network of more than 100 volunteers, an actively involved Board of 18–20, and one part-time office manager, who is the glue holding us all together.

We have two locations: a private pantry in a space donated to us by a church, where we store our food and assemble the grocery bags; and then our office and distribution operations at 900 Harris Street.

Our operation is like an assembly line in which each person does his or her part at different times of day; the result is a bag of food our client receives.  We have four main categories of volunteers:

  • Baggers take the food from its storage place on the shelves and put it in the bags. (The bags for every size family, from two to eight members, are standardized, with the food always the same; only the quantities differ.)
  • The office volunteer takes phone calls from 9:00 to noon and faxes a copy of the day’s orders to the pantry.
  • The drivers (two of them) come in at noon, take the bags for the order, and drive them over to distribution at Harris Street.
  • The distribution volunteer meets the drivers, checks the count of the bags, and adds the fresh food to the top of the bags to prepare them to hand out to the clients, who begin to arrive about 1:30. When clients receive their bags, they can also select a couple of extra items from groceries lining several shelves in the distribution room.