A long-sought resource for many nonprofits and state agencies, the Virginia Food Access Network (VFAN) website is a one-stop source of nutritional information for the commonwealth.
The site is a tool for those in need of information about nutrition or food access, and for those who want to connect with organizations that support Virginia’s food system. It is a source for data on topics such as areas of the state most affected by childhood hunger and considered to be food insecure. It’s also a site for learning about improving nutrition, from snack suggestions for children to ways to create well-balanced meals.
“We believe providing this type of comprehensive access to resources for all Virginians will significantly aid in the fight against hunger,” says Doug Pick, chief executive officer for FeedMore, a nonprofit focused on nourishment that provides services in Metro Richmond and across Central Virginia. He also served on the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide, which was created in 2014 and the founding group behind VFAN.
Though available to anyone with internet access, the VFAN website will be accessed most often by state agencies and nonprofits with a mission to increase food access and feed those in need, like Shalom Farms and FeedMore. Dominic Barrett, executive director of Shalom Farms and a board member of the Virginia Food System Council, says the information the site provides has long been needed.
“There’s long been interest and desire to have something like this for stakeholders across the state to better understand the scope of what’s happening across the state, what models are working, what’s not, [what] the data actually look like,” he says.
Barrett says VFAN will allow agencies and nonprofits access to mapping tools that would be beyond their means, allowing them to better serve their clients.
He cited an inquiry he received last week regarding which metro area farmers markets accepted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, information available through VFAN.
“Having organizations better understand where similar work or complementary work is happening, where access to resources for their clients are, to point folks in the right direction, is important,” Barrett says.
The website is maintained by the state and was built in collaboration with the College of William & Mary Center for Geospatial Analysis. The only additional cost for the site was the URL registration fee.
The Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide included representatives from agencies, nonprofits and others interested in child hunger and food access issues, according to Dorothy McAuliffe, first lady of Virginia and chair of the council. She describes the program as a model in linking existing programs and aligning missions to work together.
“It will serve beyond our time here, which is very important, and I think it’s going to be a great online tool for anyone working on these issues across the commonwealth,” McAuliffe says.
About 12 percent of adults in the state don’t have reliable access to nutritious food, and one in six Virginia children don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, according to VFAN.