Annual ‘Pantry Day’ combines food and fun for a good cause

“One of the greatest feelings in the world is knowing that we as individuals can make a difference.” — Jeff Bridges

Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock on Saturday, May 12 is a chance to make that difference, a time to celebrate the achievements of a caring community and a time to build on success.

Courtesy photo
Among the many devoted Food Pantry volunteers on duty this week were (from left) Mary Thompson, Carolynne Thornton, Laura Dodd, Mary Ann Kuhn, Pantry Manager Mimi Forbes, Daphne Hutchinson, and Anne Marie Stacey.

The day begins with food drives and everyone’s favorite pet parade around the pantry grounds in Sperryville and ends with the annual benefit dinner, returning this year to John Anderson’s Jessamine Hill in Tiger Valley. It’s a bountiful feast in an elegant setting with signature dishes from the county’s premiere restaurants and B&Bs. And that dinner brings in about 16 percent of the pantry’s annual budget.

On an average month, the money helps put food on the table for 225 children, 135 elderly county residents and 340 adults — 232 households in all.

There’s no one-description-fits-all for the pantry’s clients. Some are natives whose families go back for generations. Others arrived a year or two ago. They’re old, they’re young, they might be out of work, they might be underemployed. Some come every week, others only every other month.

The pantry also means more than food, especially for the elderly who make up about 20 percent of the customers. Many live alone, without transportation and with limited social interaction. For them, a pantry visit helps break the isolation. It’s a place to commiserate with friends, share good news and bad, catch up on gossip and laugh.

The pantry means almost as much to its volunteers as it does to its clients.

Organized and orchestrated by Manager Mimi Forbes, some 180 of Mimi’s Minions (as they call themselves ) collect donations from Trader Joe’s and Costco in Charlottesville, Wegmans in Gainesville and Food Lions in Warrenton and Marshall, stock shelves, shop with clients, deliver to shut-ins, fill and distribute the backpacks that go home with children on weekends and vacations, teach cooking classes for customers, assist with clerical and administrative tasks, plan events, trap stink bugs, weed flower beds — whatever it takes. And the pantry’s board is a working board, with every member in the trenches.

“All of us have a niche, our own thing, our own way to contribute,” noted board member Georgia Gilpin, whose domain is the big deli case when the load from Trader Joe’s comes in on Tuesdays. “It’s a wonderful place to volunteer. It’s enjoyable.”

“Here, I feel like I’m part of the community,” added Anne Marie Stacey, a recent transplant from Northern Virginia. “I’ve met wonderful people I wouldn’t know otherwise. There’s a special place in my heart for the folks who were born and raised here. They have wonderful stories about how the county was in the old days — they are part of what I love about Rappahannock.”

“It could be any one of us needing help,” noted volunteer Debbi Carroll. “All it takes is a serious illness, an accident or the loss of a job. In emergencies, budgets will only stretch so far. But no one should go hungry, and in Rappahannock, no one has to. We have the pantry.”

The resource is here because this is a compassionate community. While 21 percent of the pantry’s cash income derives from grants awarded by non-profits beyond the county lines, it is local individual donors who provide the biggest chunk — they give 46 percent of the money. The rest also comes from “home” — neighborhood churches, organizations and businesses, the Christmas parade and Pantry Day.

That’s just the cash. The pantry also received 146,654 pounds of food last year. Using the standard valuation for food donations, that’s over $250,000 worth. The bulk of the contributions came in year-round from the chain groceries; Waterpenny and Sunnyside Farms also delivered fresh local produce in season.

Appropriately for a cause that’s all about food, the benefit dinner offers a sumptuous groaning board with ample choices. From Whippoorwill Farm comes pork for roasting and ground beef for grilling. Griffin Tavern, the Trading Post, Headmasters, the Culinary Arts Department of Rappahannock County High School, the Country Café, Tula’s and the Thornton River Grill are adding side dishes. Trout Addiction and Foster Harris House are doing appetizers. And that’s only a partial list as chefs are still choosing their contributions.

Local wineries, craft breweries and Copper Fox Distillery donate the spirits. This year’s celebration again includes the highly anticipated raffle of free dinners from The Inn at Little Washington and the Foster-Harris House. In addition, a special attraction for 2018 is a mini-concert of operatic favorites and show tunes sung by Matt Brooks and Elliot Matheny from the Castleton Festival.

The May 12 benefit begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $100 a person and reservations can be made by calling the pantry at 540-987-5090 or e-mailing info@rappahannockpantry.org.