Restaurant owner starts food pantry for those in need
La Villa on Timberlake Road has become more than just a beloved Italian restaurant over the last year. Nestled between extra seating and storage, customers may be able to spot shelves of groceries and nonperishables awaiting delivery to those in need as part of a community food bank started by owner Michael DiGiovanni.
As writer Tobi Walsh learned, though DiGiovanni isn’t a stranger to giving back to the greater Lynchburg community, the pantry has given him a new mission and purpose.
Tobi Walsh: Michael, first off, where did this idea for a food pantry come from?
Michael DiGiovanni: Last year, I found myself with not a lot to do [when the pandemic started]and I wanted to do something. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do this, but I asked my mailman to bring me the names of families he knew were in need. He came back with 20 names and I started dropping off groceries on people’s doorsteps—no questions asked.
TW: Now, a year in, how many families do you help a week?
MD: [We help] 113 families ranging from Lynchburg to Bedford to Big Island. I want to do more and even go as far as Roanoke and Charlottesville in a year or two.
TW: Why a food bank?
MD: Growing up in Italy, we had a very typical family. My father worked and my mother stayed at home and cared for us. I remember there [were]times we didn’t have a lot. We would go to a charity for food, and they would make us feel ashamed for asking for help. I thought, if someone is doing this in God’s name, why would you make someone feel bad? God doesn’t make you feel ashamed. That’s why I don’t ask any questions or even a reason. We just drop everything off on the doorstep.
TW: How do you fund the pantry?
MD: For a while, we were spending money on advertising about the food bank, but we thought there was a better use for the money by buying supplies. We’ve had local police departments and sheriff’s offices donate items and even customers. If there’s a week when we need something specific and it isn’t donated, we’ll go out and buy it.
TW: Did you think you’d still be doing this a year later?
MD: No, I thought I would only do it for a few weeks. But I enjoy doing it—a lot more than I thought I would. It surprised me. I feel like this is what God wants me to do, like this is my purpose. I see it as a healing process for me. For a long time, I ran from God, and now I see why He has me here.
TW: If the community wants to get involved, how can they help?
MD: You can always drop off items at the restaurant. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It can even be a few cans. Every little bit helps.