WINCHESTER — A local cattle rancher donated more than 700 pounds of organic ground beef to a regional food pantry experiencing a spike in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul Valentino, who runs 6 Pastures Farm on Apple Pie Ridge Road in Frederick Count, donated the Angus beef to the Catholic Charities St. Lucy Food Project. The organization will distribute the meat to its three food pantries: Loaves and Fishes in Front Royal, Christ House in Alexandria and at its regional office in Leesburg.
St. Lucy also partners with 60 other food pantries in its 21-county service area, including the Congregational Community Action Project (CCAP) in Winchester. Depending on need, some of the meat eventually may be distributed to some of those charities, said Vincent Cannava, St. Lucy’s program director and food source developer.
The meat, which came from two of Valentino’s cows, was processed at Gentle Harvest Custom Processing on White Hall Road. It will be distributed in prepackaged, one-pound “to go” bags.
“It’s really greatly needed,” Cannava said.
Since the pandemic started, there have been periods of higher and lower demand for food at pantries across Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, he said. However, he estimated that overall demand has increased by as much as 30%.
“In a month,” Cannava said, if businesses remain closed and lots of people continue to be out of work, “we expect it to really soar. People’s paychecks are going to run out.”
So the St. Lucy pantries are trying to build up their food inventory to meet the demand, he said.
At least five meat processing plants across North America are temporarily closed because workers contracted COVID-19, media reports show. As a result, there is a heavy demand for ground beef, which has become “very expensive,” Cannava said.
“We look to the commercial world,” such as supermarkets, for most donations of meat, he continued. But as stores are operating more efficiently, amounts of excess meat they are able to donate are decreasing, he said. Also, most of the meat donated by stores is nearing its expiration date, he said. That presents another problem for food pantries: If the meat is not eaten quickly, it spoils.
Because the meat donated by Valentino is fresher, it especially will be useful, according to Cannava.
Valentino and his wife, Mary, started 6 Pastures Farm three years ago. He donated a cow to St. Lucy last year. The pandemic prompted him to double the donation this year.
Like most people, he is concerned about the hardships that people are facing due right now.
“I couldn’t think of a better time” to make this year’s donation, said Valentino, who is Catholic.
By donating the meat to St. Lucy, “I know it’s going to go to people who need it,” he said.
The charity is operated efficiently with little administrative overhead costs, he mentioned.
Valentino and Cannava both urged other beef producers throughout the Shenandoah Valley to donate a cow or two to help food pantries.
“I look across the valley ... and see thousands and thousands heads of cattle,” Valentino said. If everyone who raises them would make a donation, it would be enough to ensure that nobody in the valley goes hungry, he surmised.