Food Pantry draws a caring young crowd of helpers  

Food Pantry Day
Saturday, May 12

At the Pantry

9:30 a.m. – Pet Parade led by 11-year-old bagpiper Jacob Laughlin. Prizes awarded in three categories (dogs, cats, others), registration begins at 9, entry fee is donation of dog food or cat food (no entry fee for Pantry customers).

11 a.m. – Gardening workshop led by Farm to Table coordinator Jen Rattigan and master gardener Mark Cuppet from Mountain Laurel Montessori Farm School.

1-3 p.m. – Food Pantry Open House

Also, Trinity Episcopal Church’s lemonade stand and St. Peter’s Catholic Church’s bake sale, both to benefit the pantry.

At the home of Beverly and John Fox Sullivan

6-9 p.m. Fundraising dinner and wine auction at the mayor’s home in Washington; tickets, $85, available by emailing PantryDay@RappahannockPantry.org, visiting RappahannockPantry.org or calling 540-937-4038.

This Saturday’s Food Pantry Day is giving youngsters an opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility for their community and build the habit of helping neighbors less fortunate than themselves. On their own or through scouting and school programs, kids from Sperryville to Amissville are observing Rappahannock County Food Pantry Day on May 12 and simultaneously learning the importance and satisfaction of making a difference.

For the girls in the Rappahannock Service Unit of the Girl Scouts, a food drive was the perfect way to participate, to honor scouting’s 100th birthday and earn the special anniversary patch commemorating their good work. Every Rappahannock Girl Scout, from kindergarten to 9th grade, is taking part in the campaign.

 “Courage, competence and character. That’s what Girl Scouting is all about, and this food drive advances all three of those goals,” explained Janet Robey, leader of the seventh-grade cadet troop and Brownies. “It’s a girl-led project. The girls looked at the needs in this county, and they wanted to focus on combating hunger.”

Basing the collection of non-perishables at the elementary school, the girls made and decorated food boxes for every home room. They went class to class, describing hunger in Rappahannock, explaining the needs and exhorting their friends to help. They made food drive announcements and reported progress over the school’s public address system. On Fridays, the seventh-grade cadets hauled a wagon through the halls, stopping at each home room to collect cans, bottles and boxes. “It was amazing to see the kids pouring out of the rooms loaded down with food. The first Friday, we had to stop and empty the wagon twice!” Robey noted.

And it only got worse . . . or better, depending on the perspective. To earn the 100th anniversary patch, the girls had to achieve 100 of something – pounds, items, hours, anything, as long as it totaled 100 or multiples thereof.

On opening day of the drive, the scouts beat their goal, collecting 209 items that weighed in at 212 pounds. So they upped the target to 1,000, and in week two, they were at 993 pounds – only seven short of the new goal, with the drive only half way through and two weeks of collecting still to go. “It’s been a wonderful success,” Robey added, “and the girls have been able to see the results of doing something for others.”

For those who want to assist the Girl Scouts with the food drive, there’s still time. Perishables may be dropped up at the elementary school through this Friday (May 11.)

For the teenagers in Rappahannock County High School’s Farm-to-Table program, support of the Food Pantry is a continuing effort, with produce picked, bagged and delivered weekly. From cool weather greens, peas and broccoli to the tomatoes, herbs, corn, beans and squash of high summer, hundreds of pounds of high-school grown vegetables filled the pantry’s bushel baskets last year. “It isn’t just the horticulture and agriculture classes,” said Jen Rattigan, who teaches agriculture and coordinates the F2T program. “Every class is somehow involved in our interdisciplinary approach.” For instance, shop classes built the raised beds at the Food Pantry and the Senior Center. Math classes do the numbers, working out plot sizes, plant spacing, cost and output. For school lunches, culinary art students prepare cooked vegetables and salad bar fixings harvested from the Farm to Table gardens.

“After every delivery to the Food Pantry, we report the next day on the experience. It means a lot to the kids,” Rattigan said. “They harvest for themselves, and they look forward to the fruits of their labors, but they gladly give up their shares when they know we’re harvesting for the Food Pantry.”

Students from Belle Meade School are collecting and donating eggs from the farm’s flock to the pantry. At Hearthstone School, kids are holding a food drive. Children from the Mountain Laurel Montessori Farm School in Flint Hill, where the Plant-A-Row hoop house is installed, grow, bag and deliver greens to the pantry. At Stuart Field in Amissville, young athletes in the Rappahannock Culpeper Baseball League will be conducting a food drive during Saturday’s games (the drop for donations is at the concession stand.)

Main Hutcheson of Amissville is building a 10-by-12-foot storage shed for the pantry as his Eagle Scout project, and scouts will help with activities at the pantry on Saturday as well as park cars at the fundraising dinner and wine auction that night at the Sullivans’ home. Jacob Laughlin, whose grandmother Annie lives in Huntly, will lead the pet parade on Food Pantry Day with his bagpipes. The 11-year-old ranks fifth in the nation as a bagpipe player for his age group.

 “These young people all have one thing in common – they care,” said Mimi Forbes, Food Pantry director. “They’re in training to carry on the tradition of this caring and compassionate community”

Most of the regular volunteers at the Food Pantry are retirees with time to donate to community causes. Occasionally, a teenager or 20-something will tag along to help parent or grandparent with an afternoon shift at the pantry, but rarely do they become steady helpers. There’s so much else to do, they’re too busy, job and school pose conflicts, or they have family responsibilities. Twenty-seven-year-old Jen Green of Amissville is the exception.

Daphne Hutchinson | Rappahannock News

Two years ago, struggling with severe social anxiety, Jen saw the Food Pantry as an opportunity – a small, safe place where she could practice socialization. Her excellent computer skills made her instantly indispensable; her kind and helpful manner made her an instant favorite with customers. It was a good match. She took on additional responsibilities, her confidence growing as her competence increased, and in no time, she was tapped as deputy – the mini-Mimi – in charge when the director is on leave, comfortable with the authority, at ease in the position, with no trace of anxiety.

How did the transformation happen?

“It’s simple. There’s such camaraderie between the volunteers. It’s fun! And I think I accomplish something positive at the Food Pantry,” Jen explained.