By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 7 — By the end of this week or early next week, Page County should find out if it will receive $125,500 to help continue feeding unemployed hospitality workers and make protective masks.
On April 9, a weekly “food hub” was created at the Mimslyn Inn to distribute food to those out of work due to the closure of (and/or layoffs at) local restaurants, and tourism and hospitality sites, such as Shenandoah National Park, Delaware North, Yogi Bear, Luray Caverns and Massanutten Resort.
With seasonal workers potentially unemployed since November when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, a public-private partnership formed to deal with the potential need that would arise within a short time.
“I was concerned about this influx of need,” said Liz Lewis, coordinator of the county’s Economic Development and Tourism office.
So, she approached Jim Sims, general manager of the Mimslyn Inn, about creating a “food hub” at the historic hotel and eatery, where employees were also laid off due to the shutdown. Sims launched a GoFundMe drive called “Funds4Food” that has raised $2,825 to purchase food for the program.
In four weeks, the food hub has served “an average of 30 to 35” people each week, according to Lewis.
Those who wish to pick up a food bag each Thursday will need to bring their last pay stub from their employer. Bags are placed on the bottom step under the covered front entrance of the Mimslyn Inn between 2 to 4 p.m.
“It has helped take some of the burden off of Page One,” Lewis added. “My concern was how long could we sustain feeding people without a revenue stream.”
That lead to a letter being submitted to Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development for funding through Virginia Funding Opportunities for COVID-19 Response grants. Lewis applied for two grants — one for $108,000 to support the continuation of the food hub; and a second grant of $17,500 for producing masks.
In addition to purchasing additional food for distribution, the larger grant could help fund up to 11 jobs related to operating the weekly food hub, according to Lewis.
“I put in for a 12-week period,” Lewis said of temporary assistance program. “I don’t know what the state will give us.”
Lewis told supervisors Tuesday night that no county funds have been spent on this program through its first four weeks, but the grant money would be needed to sustain it much longer.
In addition to the money raised through the GoFundMe campaign, Rileyville Baptist Church and Rileyville Gospel Church have contributed food to the program.
“It’s said ‘It takes a village. Our village really came together in support of those that have been drastically impacted by COVID-19,” Lewis stated on an April 10 Facebook post.
The two required public hearings for the grant applications have been held — April 21 and May 5 — with no speakers at either. No action was required by the board of supervisors following the second public hearing Tuesday night. The board did adopt a resolution of support on April 21.
Like many governments officials, Lewis wants to help those in need, but she wonders how long that need — and the virus — will linger. Larger attractions, that draw large crowds may not open for a while yet, she notes, and those that do, will likely do so under a limited capacity — which will limit employment. With stimulus checks already distributed for most, Lewis worries that some may be our of work longer than unemployment benefits will last.
“These programs are important, but how long do you sustain them?” Lewis questioned. “The need could get greater as we go along with this pandemic.”
For more programs under Page County’s office of Economic Development and Tourism, go to pagecountyliving.com