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In Chesterfield County, Virginia, a business owner is now also running a nonprofit that's putting food on the table for immigrant families in need.
Natasha Lemus, a wife and mother of four, developed the skill of finding food for families in need out of necessity.
"I feel like I am advocating for a community that has kept themselves silent because of fear," Lemus said.
She owns and operates a tax business in north Chesterfield, Virginia, but the pandemic changed her life.
When agencies closed during the government shutdown in 2020, Lemus kept her tax office open, and she was busy.
"When the pandemic hit, clients started calling the office asking for unemployment resources — food resources, how to activate an EBT," Lemus said. "I couldn't just sit at my desk and not do anything. Families were looking for food."
She found the resources to help.
"I was connecting them to really great locations that were serving and doing food drives," Lemus said. "But a couple of families came back and said, 'We are looking for more real food,' and I asked, 'What is real food?' They said, 'We need limes, fresh produce, we need corn flour.' So I looked at my team around me in my office and I said, 'Hey, you know what, let's do a food drive to serve the community, and let's connect with local businesses."
The food drive gave food that immigrants were accustomed to cooking, which Lemus says they'll actually eat. The food drive eventually evolved into something bigger.
"It was a one-day event and it became an everyday event because we continued to receive local support from the community," Lemus said.
She first stored items at her office, then more people came in need. To meet the growing demand, she established Waymakers Foundation — a nonprofit that serves the immigrant community.
"It was like a burning passion in my heart," Lemus said.
With her four tax employees and a few volunteers, she used COVID relief dollars and grants from other foundations to lease a new, larger, pantry space, with most of its items purchased at a discounted price from Feedmore or donated by private distributors.
They now feed 250 families a week and have endlessly ringing phone lines, with Lemus saying there is never enough to help everyone who asks.
"The demand goes beyond what we can do," Lemus said. "We need funding right now critically to continue what we do."
She says the pantry is only surviving month to month, but she has no plans to give up.
"Trust me, I know where I am going, I just need the support," Lemus said. "I can see Waymakers at a bigger location doing bigger things."