RARA Adapts to Coronavirus


A sign outside the Food Pantry instructs visitors to stay in their cars. Photo provided by WDBJ7.

Arden Courtney Collins, Reporter

The Rockbridge Area Relief Association (RARA) has been working hard fighting hunger and poverty in Rockbridge County since 1972, providing many services to the community. 

One service that RARA provides is its Food Pantry, which serves over 600 families a month, according to their website. The Food Pantry is set up like a grocery store, and people can come in and pick out items they need free of charge. The Food Pantry has an array of groceries available to clients, from canned goods to produce, meat, and even laundry detergent. 

RARA also runs a HelpLine, where families can request emergency financial assistance when paying rent, utilities, or heating fuel. In addition to the HelpLine, RARA helps the community with its homelessness prevention program, which aids families through advocacy, education, and occasionally funds. 

Since the outbreak of COVID 19, however, RARA’s job has become more difficult. Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam has ordered a statewide shutdown, and only essential services, like RARA’s Food Pantry, are allowed to remain open.  

RARA volunteer and RCHS alumni, Mckelvey Collins described the system that the Food Pantry is using to keep both volunteers and clients safe. 

“To limit contact with people, we have a drive-through, like a fast-food restaurant,” said Collins. “One person takes orders of how much food someone needs, while others take the orders and fill up shopping carts with the items the person had requested. My job was to help load up people’s cars. They provided us with surgical gloves, and we brought bandanas to use as homemade masks.” 

RARA’s HelpLine was also changed to allow for volunteers to work remotely. Jen Handy, RARA’s director, described the Helpline’s activities since the shutdown. 

“Currently, the government has put a hold on utility cut-offs and eviction court proceedings. This has allowed things to stay slightly more quiet during the first weeks.” said Handy. “Now, we are beginning to see a surge in individuals needing emergency shelter, rent, etc. We anticipate this need skyrocketing for the months to come.”

RARA has been taking other precautions against COVID 19 such as instituting more rigorus sanitation and cleaning guidelines, using smaller volunteer groups, and limiting face to face interactions as much as possible. 

“We added online preordering and home delivery options for community members that could not get to the Pantry.” said Handy, “We are encouraging young, healthy folks to pick up for family members or at-risk neighbors.”

If anything, the pandemic has made RARAs service even more crucial. 

“I think that for a lot of people, this pandemic has really affected their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Many people have lost their jobs or been laid off,” said Collins. “Therefore, it’s important to still have resources like the Food Pantry to help people who are finding themselves in a difficult situation right now.”