Pantry puts out the welcome mat in Sperryville

Re-orchestrated and relocated in Sperryville, the “new and improved” Rappahannock Food Pantry reopened to rave reviews last week.

“Awesome!” said one shopper.

“Such abundance!” added the next.

“Beautiful! It is such a pleasure to be here,” enthused another shopper, speaking for all the pantry’s clients as she turned slowly in a circle, taking in the gleaming refrigeration units filled with deli and dairy, the shiny shelves stocked with non-perishables, bread racks piled with loaves, the produce bins and baskets brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables . . . and the space.

“Space, oh glorious space!” chorused the volunteers.

The new Rappahannock Food Pantry has reopened in its more spacious Sperryville quarters.
The new Rappahannock Food Pantry has reopened in its more spacious Sperryville quarters. By Daphne Hutchinson
By Daphne Hutchinson

Space for the backpack program that sends weekend meals home with elementary-aged kids. Space in a huge, beautiful commercial kitchen that offers the opportunity for customers to try samples of unfamiliar fixings and learn in cooking classes how to take best advantage of what’s available at their pantry. Space for shoppers to wait their turn. Space for shoppers to pass on their shopping circuits. Space to store food at the end of the day instead of hauling it in wagons downhill to a shed and back up the hill for the next shopping afternoon. Space with separate men’s and women’s bathrooms, uncluttered with mountains of boxes and away from the crowd instead of smack next to the dessert array’s “wall of temptation.” Space for a volunteer respite corner, with comfortable chairs, where helpers can relax a minute or two when the crunch of stocking and shopping eases. Space to park.

The landlord at the pantry’s former home in Washington considerately gave the organization’s board of directors almost two years notice that the lease would not be renewed, and the long search for quarters focused on that same center of the county, but without success. Food Pantry Director Mimi Forbes worried that clients in Amissville, Castleton and Chester Gap might find the added distance a challenge, but the first week at the new location ended her concern. Shopper after shopper affirmed “no problem,” and several even noted how much they enjoyed driving towards the Blue Ridge at peak color.

For the reopening Nov. 1, the transition appeared effortless, thanks to the incredible team effort that preceded the move. Led by Mimi and the pantry’s board of directors, 30 to 40 regular volunteers donated uncounted hours to cleaning, staining, painting, drywalling, hammering, hauling and organizing. New volunteers and pantry customers enlisted in the painting, building and moving crews. Then pantry clients returned to clean until it gleamed (and they were so happy being contributors that they’ve offered to continue cleaning as a weekly service).

“We thank our Rappahannock community for pitching in,” said Pantry President Noel Laing. “They turned what could have been a very difficult challenge into a very smooth and easy operation.” Taking a look back, the prime mover of the pantry’s backpack program offered special thanks to John Sullivan and Bill Walton, owners of the Washington School next door to the old pantry, for donating space for backpack storage and assembly for three years. “We would not have been able to run that program without their support.”

Help for the move also came from the Rappahannock Benevolent Fund, which contributed $20,000, and an anonymous donor, who gave $10,000, all going for refurbishment of the new site, the cost of professionals to haul the big stuff, and purchase of the new refrigerated units that make the pantry look like a real grocery store.

But even with that phenomenal support, there’s need for more. “Rent, heat and electrical expenses will increase significantly at the new location,” said Bette Mahoney, pantry board member. The move to Sperryville comes just as the Rappahannock Food Pantry’s annual fundraising appeal goes out, so the board of directors is hoping that a generous community is even more generous this year.

Last year, the pantry served an average of 900 “shoppers” a month. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, over 200 holiday feast boxes, with turkey, ham and all the trimmings, are given out, and more than 100 backpacks went home with school children every Friday to help see them through the weekend.

And the demand is not expected to decline. “If anything, we expect it to grow,” concluded Mimi.

Hours and needs

The Rappahannock Food Pantry, now located on U.S. 211 west of Sperryville (in the former Blue Moon building), is open for shopping noon to 4 Tuesday and Thursday and 10 to 2 Saturday. Food donations are gratefully accepted on those days, but morning, before shopping starts, is the preferred delivery time.

The pantry is pursuing grants for kitchen upgrades and program expansion with cooking classes. In the meantime, a few furnishings are still needed, specifically counters and cabinets for the bathrooms. Also, the longtime Christmas sponsor who donated hams for the food boxes is no longer participating, so the pantry is seeking a new benefactor. And, as always, the pantry needs and welcomes new volunteers to collect donated food from supporting groceries in Marshall, Warrenton and Charlottesville, stock shelves, escort shoppers and more. For more information or to sign up, call Mimi Forbes at 540-987-5090.

Watch your mail in the next week or two for the annual fund raising letter — the one time a year that the Rappahannock Food Pantry asks for money. Please be as generous as you can be, because charity starts at home.