By Helena Tavares Kennedy | Photos by Lillis Werder
St. Paul’s Anglican Church members formed Haymarket Food Pantry in 2005, as the recession in previous years caused a loss of income and jobs for a growing number of local families. It started with people anonymously dropping off canned goods at the church’s “food closet.” Soon, the closet was overflowing, and the pantry moved to a larger space in Haymarket Town Hall in 2008. In 2011, the pantry moved to its current location, a historical century-old house that the town leases to the organization, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, for $1 a year.
Haymarket Food Pantry has continued to grow with community need: In 2008, the pantry fed 72 families a week. Volunteer
Coordinator Laura Cordaro Smith said it now feeds about 600 families monthly. Nearly half of those in need are children. Requests for holiday meals are also on the rise, from around 300 requested per holiday in 2011 to 500 requests this year. About one-third of the patrons only come to the pantry for a few months, another third for about a year, and the remainder require longer term assistance.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Food donations come in from local citizens, as well as from companies such as the local Walmart and Dominion Valley Giant, which donate produce. Pepperidge Farm donates breads due to expire and Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Nokesville provides fresh produce from a garden on its property.
Area businesses support the Haymarket Food Pantry in other ways, too. Haymarket resident Erik Dardas, Home Depot Mid-Atlantic Region Pro Sales Manager, donates supplies and his time towards building improvements. His involvement began after attending a fundraiser in 2013, where he learned of the number of families in need and problems with the building, including a lack of running water. Volunteers had to drive down the street to use the restroom.
Dardas contacted sales team member Zsanigga King, who reached out to Michael & Son Plumbing, which offered to do all the labor pro bono. As of September, the facility has running water, complete with working bathrooms. “We had immediate support from higher-ups for this work with the Haymarket Food Pantry as they recognize the importance of it,” said Dardas.
Of the more than 500 volunteers signed up at the Haymarket Food Pantry, about 200 serve on a regular basis. They come from Haymarket and neighboring districts such as Gainesville, Bristow, Nokesville, and Manassas.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose after orienting groups of volunteers who are as interested [as me]in helping the less fortunate,” Smith said. “Seeing such an outpouring of volunteers interested in helping our community makes my volunteer time well worth it.”
She outlined some of the tasks that volunteers take on:
- Make and distribute food bins on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.
- Sort, stock and organize shelves and purge expired food items daily.
- Represent the pantry at various fundraising opportunities and community events.
- Implement technologies that streamline check-in and capture statistical information.
- Maintain the property: painting, cleaning gutters, gardening.
With such a wide variety of tasks, Smith said the pantry is always seeking new volunteers from all walks of life.
The pantry’s youngest captain, or food distribution team leader, Osbourn Park High School junior Gabrielle Concepcion, started volunteering as a freshman. “I love to volunteer there regularly because I have the chance to get to know the clients and make all of them feel welcome and that our community supports them,” she said.
A Visible Difference
Pam Stutz, former Mayor of Haymarket and now the pantry’s executive director, recalled once seeing a man climb out of a local
supermarket dumpster carrying discarded food. His wife had recently left him with two children, and he was about to lose his job.
Stutz told him she’d rather see him at the food pantry, but the man said he was too embarrassed to go there. “Look at my car,” he said. It was a higher-end vehicle, but it was fully paid off and his only transportation. He worried it would look strange driving up to the food pantry in a nice car, but Stutz convinced him otherwise. The man became a patron for several months, always thanking Stutz and the volunteers. Eventually, he came to the pantry with great news—he finally found a job in California. He’d wanted to thank the volunteers one last time before moving.
Retiree Jim Kennedy, another captain, shared a similar story. “A year ago, a guy had been coming in on a regular basis. He had a family but lost his very specialized job, making it very difficult to find another job,” said Kennedy. “One day he came in and said he finally got a job which would start in a week and he wanted to thank us for all our help. That’s why we do what we do.”
Oftentimes, families return the favor once they are back on their feet. “We’ve had people come back and offer to donate food or volunteer. They like to pay it forward,” said Kennedy.
Located at 14740 Washington Street, the Haymarket Regional Food Pantry accepts patrons 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9:00 a.m. – 12 noon on Saturdays.
Helena Tavares Kennedy, a marketing and communications consultant, also enjoys freelance writing. She has lived in Prince William County for over 13 years with her family. She can be reached at email@example.com.