Personality: Wonnease Rhone

Spotlight on 5 Loaves founder and executive director

12/21/2023, 6 p.m.
For as long as she remembers, Wonnease Rhone has provided food — particularly hot soup and sandwiches — to people ...

For as long as she remembers, Wonnease Rhone has provided food — particularly hot soup and sandwiches — to people in need.

“All my life, I have gravitated to feeding the homeless or people that were food insecure,” Ms. Rhone says. “If you didn’t have any food, I would go into the grocery store and buy you some food. That’s been my passion all my life.”

Several years ago, after knowledge of her work spread through word of mouth, Ms. Rhone’s passion for feeding people in need became 5 Loaves, a mobile food pantry.

With colorful signage on her small hatchback vehicle advertising her business, 5 Loaves was formed in 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. The deadly virus left many isolated at home to avoid infection.

Families, single parents, senior apartment complex operators and others contacted Ms. Rhone for help and food deliveries.

Ms. Rhone connected with churches and local organizations for help and locations to set up tables in the parking lots of two local churches in order to better reach residents in low-economic areas such as Southwood and Whitcomb Court.

Today, 5 Loaves operates as a mobile food pantry that provides food on its own or through collaboration with other groups. According to Ms. Rhone, 5 Loaves serves about 100 people daily and more than 3,000 families monthly.

Community partnerships with groups such as Kirby Farms, AARP, Retina Institute Virginia, the Community Foundation, Publix and Woodside Farms provide assistance. In addition, Ms. Rhone and her staff of five volunteers receive food donations from surplus stock, grants, and other entities to promote healthier eating in Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, Colonial Heights and Petersburg.

Ms. Rhone believes her work with 5 Loaves is necessary given the presence of food deserts, lack of transportation and infirmities that often limit mobility for many in the Richmond area. Such factors also tend to force people to rely on cheaper, more accessible, less nutritional foods.

In addition to providing food, community aid from 5 Loaves includes clothing donations for the homeless, personal hygiene products and job-seeking skills assistance.

“It’s not just about food,” Ms. Rhone says. “It’s about the whole picture.”

Ms. Rhone hopes to expand 5 Loaves operations in the future by reaching more individuals and families in need.

Meanwhile, she is focused on current needs of the underserved, along with her quest to make their days easier, healthier and ultimately better.

Meet a provider for Richmond communities and this week’s Personality, Wonnease Rhone:

Occupation: Executive director of 5 Loaves.

Date and place of birth: April 21 in Atlanta.

Where I live now: Richmond since 1988.

Education: Associate degree, Boston College.

Family: One son, two grand-to children.

5 Loaves is: A mobile food pantry serving Richmond and surrounding low income, food insecure and food desert areas with fresh produce.

When and why I founded: Five Loaves was founded in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic hit in the beginning of 2020. Because of the lockdown, people began calling me in need of food. I partnered with local food pantries to help supply communities with needed food. However, I noticed that lots of food donated to food pantries were high in sodium, sugar and fats with very little fruits and vegetables. I decided to ask area farmers to donate their surplus or sell to me at a minimum cost. Because of the high rate of diabetes, high hypertension, cardiovascular disease and hyperactivity in kids in Black and Brown communities, it is very important that we address these issues at all levels.

Mission: We believe that access to healthy food choices is a human right. Our mission is to help all our neighbors and communities have access to nutritious food. We are committed to responding to the needs of our neighbors and communities through food distribution and support services.

Values: We believe in engaging the community and involving those we serve in finding solutions to eliminate hunger and food insecurity. Our values are integrity, stewardship, teamwork, respect, innovation, empathy, passion and empowerment.

5 Loaves serves: Places like churches, libraries, schools, community centers, parks, seniors housing communities and random pop-ups.

Location: City of Richmond and surrounding counties.

No. 1 goal of 5 Loaves: One of our main goals is to identify local food deserts where people have limited access to healthy food and deliver food directly to citizens in those under- served communities.

Strategies for achieving goal: Research suggests that mobile pantries can reach the most food insecure population. We plan to acquire more trucks to reach more communities, to form more partnerships to generate more funds to expand our territory, to work diligently in researching and securing funding so that we can grow.

No. 1 challenge: Lack of funding, lack of resources to educate the public on the benefits of healthy food choices.

How we work in a nutshell: A mobile food pantry is a delivery truck that carries food to communities in need. Staff and volunteers help provide people in the community with food assistance a no charge to them on a first come, first served basis.

Since these delivery trucks come to specific local areas, people will not have to travel long distances to pick up the food that they need, making it a much more convenient way to gain access to healthy food choices and groceries.

The need for food in Richmond today: About 17,000 residents live below the poverty line at an annual income of of $26,500 for a family of four. That is 15.7% of the city’s population, more than the national average of 13.4% as cited by the U.S. Census. One in eight people turn to the food bank for emergency and supplemental food each month.

Upcoming events: Dec. 21, 2023 – Distribute toys and deliver gift baskets to seniors at Norcroft senior living townhomes. (www.5loavescorp.com)

How to become involved: 1. Donate money: Your generosity nourishes our community and empowers lives. 2. Volunteer: Every act of kindness goes a long way. 3: Donate food: Support FeedMore and other creditable food pantries by donating food or hosting a food drive. 4. Become a partner or sponsor. 5. Start a community garden and raise awareness.

How I start the day: I start my day with quiet meditation to focus on my gratitude for the blessing of the universe. The quiet time gives me a chance to rid myself of self-defeating thoughts and concentrate on the positive nature of my day ahead.

The three words that best describe me: Loyal, passionate and honest.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day: Relax and read a good book.

Best late-night snack: Carrots, Granny Smith apples or cucumbers.

The music I listen to most is: Contemporary jazz, classical, hip hop and R&B, old school classic. I love all genres of music.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: At 75 years young I love to hip-hop dance and listen to rap music.

A quote that inspires me: “If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting.”

At the top of my “to-do” list: Generate more funds and acquire more vehicles for 5 Loaves so that I may serve more people in need.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: Hard work and dedication pays off.

The person who influenced me the most: My sister Rowena Wilder (deceased) and my niece Kimberly Burse. They taught me how to stay focused regardless of the circumstances and to just do it.

Book that influenced me the most: “Commanding Your Morning” by Cindy Trimm. This book reinforced my beliefs that how we think about ourselves and our surroundings commands not only our day but our entire outlook on life.

What I’m reading now: I am reading a book by Louise L. Hay titled, “You Can Heal Your Life.” My takeaway from this book is that the state of mind has a lot to do with our healing and emotions. We are connected to this universe. We have the power to be at peace, regardless of the circumstances. We have to stay focused on our life in this moment, not tomorrow or next month. That will take care of itself. Just stay focused on this moment and live.

Next goal: I now have one vehicle and serve over 3,000 families monthly. My goal is to add an additional vehicle yearly beginning this year. I will not put a number on the number of families we want to serve monthly because we will not stop until the fight against hunger is eliminated.