The Blue Ridge Food Pantry opened on June 17. As one of the founders of the pantry, I have been asked several questions about the pantry’s mission and operation, so here goes.
What is the purpose of the Pantry? To provide free food assistance to anyone living on the Blue Ridge or in the Harpers Ferry area with a Zip Code of 25425. The pantry is here to help individuals struggling to pay their bills and buy food, disabled veterans, seniors on fixed incomes, recently unemployed or underemployed individuals, those suffering from illness or injury, families with children, or anyone else in need of food.
Where is the Pantry? St. Andrew’s Mountain Chapel at 65 Mission Rd., Harpers Ferry, WV 25425 (the small white building across the road from the community center building).
When is the Pantry open? Every Tuesday from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm and every Saturday 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. If a holiday falls on one of these days, please check our Facebook page to see when we will be open.
Who formed the pantry and why did they do it? The pantry was formed in response to a question — what one thing can we do to help our community? The answer — feed people. Food is the one thing that everyone needs to thrive. It is hard to concentrate, challenging to master multiplication tables, and difficult to work if you are hungry. The initial organizers [Susan Benzinger (author of this article), her husband Ray, and friend Katherine Austin] decided to open a pantry. We all live on the Blue Ridge and all wanted to do something positive for our friends and neighbors.
How does the pantry operate? On a basic level we obtain food through donations and hand it out to individuals and families who request it. But it’s 2023, so it’s a bit more complicated than the simple description. It takes many hands to run a pantry. We are following the example of Shepherdstown Shares and CCAP/Fishes and Loaves and have set up a system where volunteers (everyone is a volunteer, including the founders) work together — processing food donations, tracking inventory, signing up clients, preparing boxes of food, and cleaning. We have been blessed with tremendous volunteers. We all come from different walks of life but we are united in our desire to help our friends and neighbors.
Who helped you start the pantry? We received help from many. The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia gave us permission to use the Chapel. Other pantries helped us — CCAP/Fishes & Loaves in Martinsburg and Shepherdstown Shares generously shared their experiences and answered our many questions. Shepherdstown Shares provided gift cards to procure supplies. Caring Cupboard donated much needed funds to purchase food. And then there are the many, many individuals in our community who have stepped forward in a big way. Our volunteers (20+ strong so far) helped us clean and transform the chapel into a pantry, donated shelving, have brought and continue to bring food donations, and have made monetary donations which have enabled us to purchase additional food and supplies. The pantry is truly a community effort.
Have we served many people and who are they? The first two weeks we were open we served 65 people. We have been told by others that that is remarkable for a new pantry. Each week, additional individuals and families are coming to the pantry. We keep all information confidential but we can say that we have served disabled veterans, seniors, families with children, and individuals who have never before been in need.
Susan Benzinger is a retired tax attorney and active volunteer in Jefferson County. Most recently, she has been instrumental in setting up the new Blue Ridge Food Pantry to provide food assistance to residents of the easternmost portion of Jefferson County (FB: BRFoodPantry)
How Can You Help?
The Blue Ridge Food Pantry need three things to maintain the pantry — volunteers, food donations and monetary donations.
1) Volunteers — We have two shifts of volunteers each day we are open. We are very flexible about scheduling — there are no set-time commitments. You choose when you can help. Please email us if you would like to sign-up to volunteer.
2) Food Donations — We always need food. We purchase food on a monthly basis from the Mountaineer Food Bank and we receive free food from a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) program. But, the need for food is great so we need food donations from the community. We post our weekly food needs on our Facebook page. Food donations may be delivered anytime the pantry is open.
3) Monetary Donations — Dollars are very important. We need funds to buy food from the Mountaineer Food Bank and local grocery stores. We pinch pennies but we need pennies to pinch. Monetary donations may be made by mailing a check (Blue Ridge Food Pantry, PO Box 556, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425) or through PayPal (scan code image).
The Blue Ridge Food Pantry is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Tax ID # 92-2556889, and a West Virginia registered non-profit corporation organized to provide free food to those in need. Donations are tax deductible. Web: BRFoodPantryWV.com; Facebook: @BRFoodpantry; Email: BlueRidgeFoodPantry@gmail.com.
By Susan Benzinger