Supporting — and celebrating — the Food Pantry

The Recipe

Pet Parade: Co-sponsored by the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League, registration begins at 9:30 at the Pantry on Mount Salem Avenue in Washington. Entry fee is a donation of dog or cat food. Pets must be leashed; prizes awarded to all participants. Spectators welcome (donations from them are also welcome).

Cut Flower Sale: Begins at 10 a.m. (until the flowers are sold out) at St. Peter Catholic Church, the Pantry and River District Arts. Mixed bouquets for $12, $15 and $18.

Bake Sale: Begins at 9 a.m. at St. Peter’s (until all the sweets are sold).

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drives: At the Washington, Sperryville, Flint Hill and Amissville post offices. Non-perishable food may be left from now until Saturday at the post offices (and, on Saturday, in or next to home mailboxes).

Gala Benefit Dinner: “An Italian Feast” at Jessamine Hill, the Tiger Valley home of John Anderson, is 6 to 9 p.m. Culinary creations contributed by Rappahannock’s restaurants, wine donated by county wineries. Tickets are $85. For reservations, call 540-675-3445 or visit rappahannockpantry.org.

In just five years, the Rappahannock Food Pantry has become an integral piece of the safety net people point to when they talk about the county’s culture of caring.

The little building next door to the Old Washington School is part grocery, part community resource center and part comfort station, dispensing hugs and encouragement. Patrons not only take home eggs, milk and bread, but also clothing vouchers for the Thrift Shop, the phone number for a give-away refrigerator, information on a job opening or simply well-wishes to get through a tough stretch.

This community landmark has its day this Saturday (May 10) — Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock County. It’s a time to celebrate — with the fun and frivolity of the Pet Parade at 9:30 on the lawn of the Washington School — and a time to support food drives, fundraising bake sales and flower sales throughout the day, culminating in the annual benefit dinner at 6 p.m. at Jessamine Hill.

This year’s gala dinner, “An Italian Feast,” is one of the self-supporting pantry’s major revenue generators. Local restaurants and wineries donate the food and libations, and all proceeds go directly to the pantry. For the past two years, the event has been held at the Washington home of Beverly and John Fox Sullivan, but with kitchen renovations underway there, The Meadows was unavailable. So John Anderson stepped up to offer historic and beautifully restored Jessamine Hill.

The lovely setting and elegant repast are reasons enough to attend the Feast. Add the opportunity to support a worthy cause, and the Food Pantry benefit at Jessamine Hill becomes the place to wine and dine in the Virginia Piedmont on Saturday night.

Pantry patrons best explain just what the pantry means in hard times: “I feel relieved and lucky, because with the pantry, I have enough food to get by.”

“You can get help, and you don’t have to sacrifice your dignity for it.”

“It’s like an oasis. It’s helpful to so many people. I’ve never heard of anything like our pantry anywhere else, not anywhere. It’s an amazing thing.”

“It means everything right now. It fills a void. I feel so warm and embraced. It’s a good experience to come here.”

The volunteers, 60-plus regulars who shop with customers, stock shelves, grow vegetables, collect donations weekly from Panera, Trader Joe’s, Wegman’s, Food Lion and other contributing groceries, and unload the big delivery truck from the Blue Ridge Food Bank hauling USDA commodities, would agree.

In fact, some volunteers would say it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. “Every legislator in Richmond needs to come up here and work in the Food Pantry and the Free Clinic. Then maybe they’d understand the needs. I’m astounded at how our people keep plugging away with the burdens they have,” explained Joanne Tepper.

Volunteers working at Saturday’s dinner also will be watching for chances to recruit newcomers to the ranks. If they see interest, they can’t resist — they know the benefits. For patrons: “If you can bring food to the table, you can hold a family together.”

For themselves: “You learn to really appreciate what you have.”

And to the community: “There are a lot more people in Rappahannock County who need help than I thought there were,” noted Tristan Proudfoot, a 17-year-old senior from Rappahannock County High School’s new service learning elective who volunteers Tuesday afternoons at the pantry.

“It’s great that we can help our neighbors when they need it.”