Christ Church Cares (CCC) operates a local outreach ministry that provides food and other necessities to our parishioners and neighbors. In February 2010, CCC began a once-a-month, large-scale food distribution program—a community food service for Clarke County residents. The pantry is a member of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. We are qualified for USDA food and also receive donations from local individuals and businesses. Fresh seasonal vegetables come from neighbors’ gardens and from the Millwood Community Garden, which CCC supports with time and treasure. We receive venison from Hunters for the Hungry, as well as from local hunters.
Our Food Pantry began in February 2010 with 16 families. By 2014, we averaged 65 households or 146 individuals per month. Because of this growth, we now open our pantry on first Fridays from 1:00 – 3:00 PM exclusively for seniors or clients with special needs. Then on first Saturdays, we are open to all Clarke County residents from 9:00 – 11:00 AM. Every effort is made to assemble the most nutritious food that we can find and afford, with a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and quality proteins. For example, every month, we offer grass-fed hamburger that is naturally raised by two neighbors. We look for canned goods low in sodium and sugar and avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup. Thanks to the generosity of Panera Bread and Wegman’s, we can offer high-quality baked goods.
One parishioner began a dog and cat food ministry that is popular with our clients.
In addition to our large-scale monthly distribution, emergency PIN (People In Need) boxes are kept in the church office for any drop-in clients who find themselves short. Our goal is to eliminate food insecurity in Clarke County. To that end, in June 2014, we began a summer feeding program for Clarke County students with food insecurity. We packed a week’s worth of lunches in large brown bags plus a plastic bag of perishable lunch meats, dairy and fruits. This pilot program was possible because of grants from Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and the Diocese of Virginia’s Mustard Seed Program. We plan to continue this ministry during the summer of 2015.
Community support for the food pantry has been sustained, creative, and generous. In fact, half our volunteers are non-parishioners who are attracted to our hands-on approach to eliminating local food insecurity. Thanks to grants from Land O’Lakes Foundation and again, the Diocese of Virginia, we have purchased two refrigerators and three freezers. Another two freezers have been privately donated.
We have received food from birthday parties where the honoree asked for food donations in lieu of presents. Many neighbors spontaneously bring donations. One grandmother “gave” her grandchildren a generous pantry donation as their holiday presents. Powhatan School has been a wonderful neighbor. Their Fifth Grade has held numerous food and clothing drives for us, and they routinely help keep our shelves well stocked. Likewise, Millwood Country Club has, for the past three years, held a holiday party and its ‘ticket’ is a food donation which brought us many hundreds of pounds of staples! All in all, we operate in a generous community.
In 2014, after four years of sharing space with the church office, the Vestry decided to move the office up to our Parish House and dedicate our entire building to food pantry use. Perhaps the long-suffering staff became tired of finding onions, cabbage leaves and the like on their desks, or having to work around stacks of bagged potatoes. In any event, we are grateful for the new, improved space and have done our best to replicate the grocery experience for our clients with open shelves, small grocery carts, and products in the same place every month. Clients now can wait their turn out of the weather, seated on pews and chairs. Our goal is to always be respectful as we know that no one wants to come to a food pantry.