“If not us, then who?” –Matthew West
Early in 1995 a group of women saw a need to help the hungry in Greene County and asked themselves that question.
“I think we need to start a food pantry,” Linda Thompson told Stanardsville Baptist Church’s Women’s Missionary Unit in January 1995. Sandra Sullivan, Marsha Shifflett and the others agreed and HELP-Feed the Hungry opened its doors once a month from the basement of the church in February 1995, helping 15 families a month.
In 25 years, the food pantry, now an independent nonprofit called Feeding Greene Inc., has grown from using vouchers for roughly 15 families a month to helping 3,265 families in 2019, according to Rhonda Oliver, director, which is a 61% increase over 2018.
Feeding Greene’s mission is as it’s always been—to see that no one goes to bed hungry in Greene, and its partnership since day one with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has helped make that happen.
Last year Feeding Greene received 442,175 pounds of food, including 289,708 pounds from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank—and the donation centers throughout the area at Walmart, Food Lions and Target—and 32,080 pounds from the community.
“Of course we do have the support of the churches, but also I think every school in the county collected food for us,” Oliver said.
Last Saturday the organization celebrated the milestone, honoring those who helped at the beginning and who have helped the food pantry grow through the years.
In the early years, Oliver said about half of the recipients were home deliveries—those who couldn’t drive to the church to pick up the food. In 2019, volunteers delivered 27,121 pounds of food to those unable to drive to pick up.
“Home deliveries continues to be my favorite part,” said Oliver, who would take her four young children on the deliveries each month.
In the very beginning, the pantry was supported through the community and church members and fundraisers by the Women’s Ministry Unit.
Under Carroll Sullivan’s direction, Feeding Greene moved to 72 Lambs Lane in Stanardsville in 2011.
Carroll Lawson became the acting director of Feeding Greene in 2014 and the pantry officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit and moved to its current location at 41A Ford Avenue in 2015.
Oliver became director in 2018. In 2019, volunteers logged more than 8,007 hours at the food bank.
“We’re all volunteers at Feeding Greene; no one is paid,” she said. “Students from Blue Ridge School come and help us, we get kids from the Youth Development Council, William Monroe High School students volunteer with BETA Club or National Honor Society, one special education class comes every week to help clean for us and some of the families we serve volunteer. It’s all a blessing.”
In 2018, Feeding Greene purchased a lot and a building on Stanard Street in town with hopes to build a permanent structure to meet its needs. The standing building was demolished last summer and the nonprofit is hopeful to work toward the goal of a new building.
“We don’t have a receiving area, so we have to be right there on Ford Avenue,” she said. “There is one door in and out. We’re running out of room to store the food. But it’s baby steps.”
In the beginning the pantry operated with vouchers from organizations, such as social services or the health department, but it’s not only the poor needing assistance these days.
“It’s the vanishing middle class,” she said. “They’re choosing between paying a bill, like electricity, or food and that’s a tough place for people to be in.”
While the food pantry has grown in families served, food collected and volunteers helping, it has also grown in what it offers. There’s a meat of the month club, dairy items and fresh produce.
“There is a lot of interest in the county to provide healthy food choices,” Oliver said. “We probably get between 2,000-3,000 pounds of fresh produce every Monday and often have to order more on Wednesday. We do get a lot of produce.”
Oliver said the food pantry has at least seven freezers to help store the meat for the families to choose from.
“Families are always really excited to be able to get the meat and that used to be something that was kind of hard to come by,” she said. “We make sure we have that and to budget money for it if we need it. We didn’t spend too much on meat last year, though, because with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank we have a lot of buying power. Our money goes farther there than it would elsewhere. If people cannot volunteer, they can also donate funds to us.”
Oliver said she’d love to collaborate with the farmers in Greene who have left over produce after the market on Saturdays.
Feeding Greene needs volunteers, especially those with good backs to help unload the trucks on certain weekday mornings, Oliver said.
“The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank recently put out something that said the average volunteer is 71 years old, though we haven’t tracked that for our location,” she said.
Oliver said Feeding Greene tries to be a good neighbor as well. When it receives items it cannot use, it donates them to other local nonprofits.
“If we get baby items, we try to take those to the health department for their programs. If we get dish liquid, we take it to the Stanardsville Methodist Church for its Tuesday’s Table meal program. They don’t have a dishwasher. Things like toilet paper, paper towels and such go to GRACE to be given to those in need.”
Overwhelmingly the financial support for Feeding Greene comes from individuals, Oliver said, though churches are a close second. Oliver said the nonprofit does have a building fund it’s working to build back up, as well.
“We are running out of space so we’re asking people to pray about our need for a new location,” Oliver said.
Oliver said Saturday’s event was a way to thank all of those who have helped the food pantry all these years.
“These 25 years have gone by so fast,” Oliver said. “When it hit me that it had been 25 years I said we can’t let this go. The church was even surprised.”
For more information, visit www.feedinggreene.org or email email@example.com. Feeding Greene is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greenefoodpantry. Financial donations can be made on site or mailed to Feeding Greene Inc., P.O. Box 13, Stanardsville, VA 22973.