Did the word Hooters in the title catch your attention? It must have, because you’re still reading. Is it likely that this article will attract even more people to the restaurant, thus fulfilling an unintentional goal instead of the one I had planned? Probably.
My problem isn’t really with Hooters. I mean, jobs for beautiful, buxom coeds are hard to come by these days. Who I’m disappointed with is the Williamsburg community for ignoring the real needs of citizens. The Williamsburg and James City county area, as it expands and caters to its affluent population, raises the cost of housing at the expense of an overwhelming food insecure population.
Food insecurity is defined as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.” Food insecure Americans often utilize food banks, defined by the USDA as “distribution centers that provide groceries and other basic supplies,” in order to achieve food security. Other area services include food pantries and food ministries.
According to local food bank operators, causes of increased food bank usage include the area’s high housing costs, seasonality of local employment, the low wages of many retail and service jobs, and welfare reform.
What is difficult to understand is why, when the local food pantry Helping Hands is closing in the next few weeks, Williamsburg did not take over where the 2003 United Way Cruikshank award-winning organization left off. Williamsburg possesses a visible food insecure population, with the local United Way referring about 350 local residents to food pantries per month in 2003. The four major food pantries in Williamsburg VAâ€”Operation Hope, Helping Hands, FISH, and Grove Christian Outreachâ€”serve on average 300-400 families a month. Helping Hands, not even the largest local food bank, donated over 425,000 pounds of food alone in 2003. With over ten local food pantries, Williamsburg possesses a substantial local Emergency Food Assistance System (EFAS), attracting not only local patrons but also people from neighboring counties and cities including Newport News, Gloucester, and Charles City County.
Helping Hands was able to feed so many clients because it was in a central location, close to the places of business where food insecure clients could walk over and pick up their necessary bags of food after leaving work. Now, the two closest food pantries are FISH and the new WHI food ministry. They are both about three miles from the center of Williamsburg, and remarkably well-hidden. In a recent study conducted by William and Mary graduate John Gibney, transportation remains a big hindrance as 48.5% of respondents to a survey lacked access to a working car, truck, or motorcycle.
The addition of a Hooters will not provide many jobs for those who are most in need of them. The environment gives little opportunity for advancement, because all waitresses are likely to be, as I said before, W&M students. Meanwhile, keeping low-income employees in the low-wage jobs means they must spend an hour’s wages of their paycheck just taking the bus to one of the food pantries to make ends meet.
What can be done about this? Clearly if there is a space for a Hooters near Colonial Williamsburg, there is a place for a food pantry or ministry there as well. For those who protest that a food pantry would besmirch the quaint, quiet nature of the area, those Hooters t-shirts aren’t really helping either. William & Mary students, so dedicated and willing to offer a hand in community volunteer service projects, are prevented from seeing the full picture of Williamsburg if food pantries and ministries are inaccessible to their assistance. Williamsburg has a tradition of service and a responsibility to the needs of its citizens, no matter what their income level. If not, Hooters might be all that is left of Colonial Williamsburg. I hope the waitresses will know where to find the food pantries and ministries then.
Hadyn Rickett is a staff writer for the DSJ. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.