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As the Central Virginia Foodbank celebrates its 20th anniversary, workers prepare for a different kind of food drive to move its work and wares into the future. 

Gleaning Time

Wayne Bain knows how to handle food. What's more, he knows how to handle people. That's one reason people say the Central Virginia Foodbank is a better place to work and visit since he became warehouse manager three years ago. Still, one walk through the food bank's cramped distribution center at 4444 Sarellen Road in Richmond's East End shows that even Bain's military-style efficiency is no match for the millions of pounds of food stacked to the food bank's ceiling. "It's like a madhouse," says Marian Boyer, director of annual giving for the food bank. "You can see that word gets out there's good food." Warehouse manager Bain's no-nonsense tact won't be pushed to the limit much longer. This year, as the Central Virginia Foodbank celebrates its 20th anniversary in Richmond, it also plans its biggest move. In March, it will shuffle more tons of food than ever before when it moves from its current location to a new and bigger facility on Rhoadmiller Street near Virginia Union University. The current facility was built to process 3 million pounds of food annually. This year, it already has distributed more than 8 million pounds of food to 587 member organizations in 31 counties and six cities throughout Central Virginia. Half of those agencies are located in the Metro Richmond area. The Central Virginia Foodbank is open to member organizations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon. Shoppers know from Bain's new-member orientations that the best way to get a parking place is to arrive early. They know, too, to bring their IDs because without them they can't get the food they need. They come to withdraw food for church feeding programs, emergency pantries, adult and childcare programs, shelters, community programs and a variety of other nonprofits that serve low-income families. Once inside, those with IDs scurry to find a flatbed pallet that they stack with items that never go unused. In addition to free USDA food ordered by the food bank for people who qualify for it, the food bank receives routine deliveries of surplus items from stores like Ukrop's Super Markets Inc. and Food Lion and companies like Perdue Farms and Nabisco. Still, it relies heavily on donations from local food drives. In November, the Boy Scouts' annual drive contributed 500,00 pounds of food that helped offset the 750,000 pounds that were distributed. But after the holidays, donations can fall far short of the demand. "There are still a number of people out there who don't know we exist," says Central Virginia Foodbank Executive Director Fay Lohr. It's especially important now, she says, because sponsored food drives are needed throughout the slower months from January through April. "On a slow day we distribute 40,000 pounds," Lohr adds. A tractor trailer holds 30,000. The food bank has coughed up $2.2 million from private and public donations, as well as a large portion of its operating budget, in order to purchase its new building and pay for the needed renovations. The anticipated move has Bain and his warehouse staff working extra hard. The constant beep of Toyota forklifts loading and unloading Chiquita banana boxes full of everything from peanut butter to vienna sausages makes the warehouse hum like stadium noise. "There is no 'I' in team," says Bain. He kept a poster saying so on his office wall for six months until his crew got the picture. Most of the warehouse recruits are adults who have come to the food bank for its welfare-to-work training program that Bain oversees. Most learn work skills that could help them find a job. Others are teen-agers with socialization problems, referred to Bain by schools, courts or juvenile centers that can't control them. Working at the food bank is their form of community service. It's become part of Bain's job to get them in line. "My priority and my mission is to move food in and out," says Bain. "I've trained soldiers how to survive. You have these guys in here for eight hours. You can get them in a system where they want to get up in the morning and come to work and work hard." Hard is putting it mildly. Each weekday the warehouse crew of about a dozen arrives at 6:30 a.m. and works until 4:30 p.m., stocking, unloading, cleaning and sweeping. When Bain first started at the food bank he says it wasn't uncommon for three out of the 11 or 12 scheduled warehouse workers to call in sick at least one day a week. "You have to weed a few of them out," Bain says, "but now those who've gone through the training program come in every day. It's actually a more relaxed ship." Try telling that to Craig Waddell, 28, a warehouse employee. Ever since he finished the training program, Waddell has stuck around. In May, Bain hired Waddell as a full-time food bank worker. "I became a pest," Waddell says. "It's such a great job and we're like one big sandwich club. And because it's run like clockwork, we know what to do." Ben and Harriett Brockenbrough know all about how the workers run the food bank. Twice a month they visit to withdraw items for the food closet at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ginter Park. "It's hard work," says Harriet Brockenbrough. "You go in and bend over very tall boxes." But Brockenbrough says the checkout is much better than it used to be and the items are easier to get. After the holidays and during the summer, she says, things get a little scarce. She's excited about the move because her drive from home will be shorter. Ben Brockenbrough, pulls their silver Toyota Tercel as close as it can get to the warehouse bay where two employees stand ready to help load up the car. Cases of Van Camp's baked beans and two-quart cans of generic spaghetti sauce are packed in tightly. As they leave the food-bank lot, 506 pounds of food weigh the car down. "That's a lot of food for $78.84," Brockenbrough says. "We couldn't do it any other
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