Volunteers want to provide so much more than canned goods and fresh vegetables at Love Thy Neighbor, a food pantry and soup kitchen in King George County, and a grant from Food Lion will help reach some of those goals.
Love Thy Neighbor received $7,000 through the grocer’s Great Pantry Makeover and used the money to purchase shelves, tables, and a stand-up freezer. The glass front door on the appliance will make it easier for “shoppers,” those who visit the pantry every Sunday, to see what’s available and take their pick, said Ryan Ragsdale, president of the pantry.
The other purchases will help the group get organized in the cavernous building it uses off U.S. 301 near Dahlgren. On Friday, about a dozen volunteers, many dressed in orange—the color of food insecurity—got to work, assembling new shelves, setting up tables, and putting boxes, bins, and bags of goods in their proper places.
By moving existing wooden shelves to the attic and putting new green, metal racks in the storage room, volunteers will be able to open up the giant front room for a sit-down meal each Sunday.
Love Thy Neighbor used to do that at the King George Citizen’s Center when the pantry first opened in 2012. The group moved to its Route 301 location about three years ago then had to stop the monthly meals in 2020 because of the pandemic.
But as COVID-19 cases rose across the region, so did donations from the community, Ragsdale said. In addition, the pantry partnered with the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank and gathered so much food, it opened its doors each Sunday.
“Our community has been amazing,” Ragsdale said.
Dan Maher, President and CEO of the Food Bank, agreed, calling Love Thy Neighbor’s work “exemplary.” He’s new to the Food Bank but has discovered that the King George community has “that neighborly spirit we could all benefit from.”
Maher said Love Thy Neighbor is a worthy choice for the makeover “because of the scale of impact it provides within King George County, its commitment to updating its operations, and its strong spirit of service.”
Each Sunday, the pantry provides food and hygiene products to about 75 families. No sit-down meal is offered because of the pandemic, but Ragsdale hopes to bring back those gatherings when COVID wanes.
About 50 of the families who get groceries live in King George, another 15 come from Colonial Beach and Westmoreland County, and the rest drive from anywhere from Fredericksburg to Tappahannock—or over the Potomac River bridge in Maryland, Ragsdale said.
No one is turned away, and with most items, people are allowed to take as much as they need. However, recipients must meet income criteria and live in Virginia to receive the USDA products available.
While making sure people have three square meals has been the focus, Love Thy Neighbor would like to address needs beyond food. Board member Carolyne Ashton has been working with Julie Carro, an associate pastor of the King George Church of God, to understand a one-woman ministry Carro has undertaken.
When people come to the pastor for help with rent or utility bills, she spends several hours in an “interview” with them. She and the applicant come to understand how “they got to the place they needed someone else to pay their electricity bill,” Ashton said, and Carro researches grants and other resources available to meet their needs.
Ashton wants to offer similar services through Love Thy Neighbor, from helping people develop job skills and assemble resumés to offering sessions on mental health and suicide prevention. She said she gets so tired of hearing people carp about why the needy don’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
“Not everybody has bootstraps,” she said. “It takes so much time and effort and energy for people in need to get to all these places for help and essentially beg. It’s dehumanizing. We want to give them the support and resources and then it’s up to them to follow through with the information we give them.”
While Love Thy Neighbor volunteers have plenty of plans, a more pressing problem is a roof over their heads. Their landlord has given them the space for three years without expecting a penny in return but has another offer for the building and needs to make some money from it, Ragsdale said. Love Thy Neighbor has launched a fundraiser on its website at kg-ltn.org and would need about $7,000 a month to match the other offer.
Ragsdale hopes the community will come through for the pantry just as volunteers busily worked around him, getting new storage systems in place last week.
“It always happens with these volunteers,” he said. “You turn your back for 5 minutes and it’s all done. Good people, we have good people.”
This article originally appeared in The FreeLance Star
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425 firstname.lastname@example.org