Starry, starry night in store for Food Pantry

On Saturday, May 13, for Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock County, the stars will be out.

They’ll twinkle in everyone’s favorite pet parade, following in the footsteps of the Pied Piper of Petdom as he leads the four-footed procession round and round the pantry’s new home in Sperryville. Then that evening, the stars will be blazing brightest at John Fox and Beverly Sullivan’s Washington home, the location for the pantry’s 2017 gala benefit dinner.

This star-studded annual event features great food in a gorgeous setting for a great cause.

Some of the sumptuous cuisine on display from the 2016 Food Pantry Day dinner.

First, the food. The menu centers around Southern barbecue — chicken, pork and beef, grilled to perfection, then perfectly sauced by Big John Imlay of Amissville.

“I got into the business by mistake!” he joked. He worked as a paid fireman and on weekends he played host for backyard barbecues. Guests raved about the roast pig and begged John to be the barbecue chef for their parties. He gave it a try in 2001, and he’s been the grill master for the family’s barbecue catering business ever since. His signature is the secret blend of spices that flavors the meat before the taste is super-charged with Big John’s special sauce. His services to the pantry are being underwritten by Whippoorwill Farm and anonymous community-minded benefactors.

Meanwhile, the supernova in the kitchen is caterer Sylvie Rowland, who has directed the popular Taste of Rappahannock for 16 years. She’ll be fixing, mixing, organizing, staging and managing, overseeing the contributions coming in from local restaurants and growers, and getting everything to the tables just so.

Eric Tollefson is an example of the support that the pantry enjoys. With his wife Janet, he owns and operates the county’s newest eatery, the Sperryville Trading Post. The Tollefsons have been pantry boosters since they moved to Rappahannock five years ago, contributing non-perishables and cash donations. But they kicked it up a notch last month, when they opened a café and market just a mile or so west of the pantry. Now Eric is a Tuesday regular, bringing in the café’s surplus bread and produce after the Trading Post’s new delivery arrives. “We really appreciate the great job the pantry does in giving people access to good, healthy food,” he explained. “Everyone there works so hard. We wanted to help.” So the Trading Post is adding an assortment of home-baked cookies to the menu.

The setting promises to turn the eyes of star gazers away from the heavens. The Sullivan’s lovely home on the outskirts of town is a gallery of Haitian art, acquired over almost a half century.

But the giant star of this starry, starry night is the food pantry itself. Led by director Mimi Forbes and an activist board of directors who do everything from stocking shelves to filling backpacks that go home weekends with school kids, and supported by more than 150 volunteers, the pantry helps sustain families and individuals, young and old, out-of-work and under-employed, natives and newcomers. The numbers show the scope of the effort: some 200 families served at any given time and last year, 9,000 shopping circuits, 200 holiday boxes at Christmas and New Year’s, 100 backpacks and over 140,000 pounds of food.

Tickets are $100 apiece, and reservations may be made through the pantry’s web page or by calling the pantry, 540-987-5090. Also available online or by phone are raffle tickets for prizes that include dinner for two at the Inn at Little Washington, two front row seats on the third base line for a Nats game, two orchestra seats for Cabaret at the Kennedy Center and a tablecloth from Ballard Designs. Tickets are $20 apiece, six for $100, and ticket holders don’t have to be present at the benefit dinner to win. For those who want to reach for the stars, sponsorships are also still available. Be a constellation for $500, a galaxy for $1,000 and the universe for $1,500. If you want to shine, contact Tammy Gill, chairperson and event organizer, at or put your name in the stars as a sponsor through the pantry’s web site.