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UVA assists Local Food Hub program

FM employees deliver fresh food to community organizations

With an assist from the University of Virginia, including Facilities Management employees, Local Food Hub is expanding and retooling its “Fresh Farmacy” program to meet evolving community needs for access to fresh, healthy food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historically, Fresh Farmacy makes locally-sourced fruits and vegetables accessible to low-income health clinic patients who want to make lifestyle changes and have diet-related illnesses, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The University and Aramark/UVA Dining are providing space in Observatory Hill Dining Hall for packing bags of fresh food and staffing for both packing and delivery. Aramark employees trained in safe food handling assemble the food bags weekly, which then are held in refrigerated storage until Facilities Management employees deliver the bags to central distribution points throughout the community.

An FM employee carries bags of groceries while wearing a face covering
Locksmith Supervisor Troy Miller carries bags into the Sentara Starr Hill Health Clinic at The Jefferson School. Photo by Sanjay Suchak / University Communications.

Senior Coordinator of Operations Lydia Santangelo has been leading Facilities Management’s involvement with the effort, coordinating employees to assist with loading and delivering the bags. About 3-4 staff members are needed each Thursday and Friday for about an hour in the mornings. So far, about 10 different staff members from Operations and Programs & Informatics teams have assisted with delivery. To get involved, contact Lydia Santangelo at

To get involved, contact Lydia Santangelo at

“UVA has been very good to me,” said Locksmith Supervisor Troy Miller, who assisted with delivery during the first two weeks of the partnership. “I feel this is a great way to give back. Pay it forward.”

During the first week, 250 bags of food were packed at Observatory Hill Dining Hall, and this week 330 are planned, with an eventual goal of 500 bags a week. Local Food Hub intends to ramp up the program in close collaboration with the community and as the need evolves along with the pandemic, according to Kristen Suokko, executive director of the organization.

Local Food Hub, created 10 years ago as a connection between local farmers and customers such as UVA Dining, UVA Health and area restaurants, created the Fresh Farmacy program in 2015 as a prescription food program with the Thomas Jefferson Health District, working primarily with low-income health clinics in Charlottesville.

“We started six years ago with 90 patients, and last year we served 283,” said Laura Brown, the Local Food Hub’s director of community and policy. “This year, pre-COVID-19, we had plans in place to serve the same number.”

Then the virus changed everything. After analyzing the community’s needs, Local Food Hub has adapted its traditional health care provider-referred model and is focusing on getting more fresh food into the hands of those who need it.

Meter Technician AJ Young (left) and Customer Relations Manager Reggie Steppe load food bags into an FM fleet vehicle to be transported to a distribution point. Photo by Sanjay Suchak / University Communications.

“We are seeing concern from our growers, who were overnight without the traditional market and some of their major institutional clients, one of which was UVA Dining,” Brown said. “And with food insecurity a growing problem, we are seeing even more need in the community for fresh produce than there was before.

“By extending the Fresh Farmacy program, we can help address both concerns, but we needed support to make it possible.”

Colette Sheehy, the University’s senior vice president for operations, said she is glad that UVA is able to assist during this time of crisis.

“When Local Food Hub approached us to help them ramp up produce deliveries to vulnerable community members, we saw it as an opportunity to be a good partner and help address a community need,” Sheehy said. “We have space for packing and vehicles and people to deliver the food bags, so Denise Herndon, in our Office of Economic Development, brought our parties together and coordinated the process that launched last week.”

With the additional resources, the Aramark employees pack the bags on Wednesdays and Facilities Management employees distribute them on Thursday and Fridays.

“We are still working with the clinic directors to identify the people in need, but it is not limited to those enrolled in a health program,” said Suokko. “We are expanding it to as many people as we can, working with others in the community, in addition to the clinic directors, to identify where those pockets of need exist.”

Diana Webb, who works at the Sentara Starr Hill Health Clinic at The Jefferson School, said the program has always been important to the clinic’s patients, but is now even more important with patients asking for additional bags of food for friends.

“COVID has just highlighted issues that already existed in our community,” Webb said.

The contents of the bags will vary from week to week, depending on what is produced by the roughly 70 partner farms with which the Local Food Hub works. Several farms produce “value-added” products such as salsa, vinegar and honey.

Aramark workers will stuff standard paper grocery sacks with produce and other farm-sourced items, such as eggs and dairy products, sourced by Local Food Hub partner farms. In the first week, the produce shares contained a one-pound clamshell of strawberries, a one-pound bunch of asparagus, one bunch of radishes, one dozen eggs, a bunch of green garlic and a bunch of green curly kale. Also included each week are cooking and food storage tips.

“Three weeks ago, we included flour that was grown and milled in Virginia and we provided a pancake recipe,” Brown said. “This week, they will be getting a block of cheese produced by a woman in Lexington who has 200 milking cows.”

The agreement between the University and the Local Food Hub extends through Aug. 1. Local Food Hub is continuing its existing relationship with Harvest Moon Catering and Yellow Cab of Charlottesville to reach more community members.

“[If] UVA opens in the fall, we have other partners on which we can rely to make this happen and there might be a different need for this program at that time,” Brown said. “Right now, we are focusing on access.”

Information for this story was contributed by UVA Today.

About the author

Jane Centofante
Communications senior generalist
UVA Facilities Management
(434) 982-5846