Pictured, from left, are volunteer Wendy Miller, volunteer Tammy Crites, office manager Kay Wayts and summer intern Sean Crites at the Upshur Parish House, which worked with WV VOAD and C.J. Maggie's Restaurant to supply meals to address food insecurity locally. / Photo courtesy Kristi Wilkerson

A win-win: Pallottine Foundation teams up with W.Va. VOAD and local eateries to address community food insecurity

BUCKHANNON – Over the course of eight weeks this summer, funds provided by the Pallottine Foundation to the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster have offered a leg up to locally owned restaurants in Upshur and Randolph counties as well as a helping hand to families trying to navigate trying times.

Cathy Rennard, outreach director with West Virginia VOAD, said the new program sprang out of a grant from the Pallottine Foundation in Huntington.

“We did a similar program there several months ago, and it was two-fold – both to support local agencies who were making sure vulnerable populations were being fed and at the same time, businesses in the community were given a shot in the arm as well,” Rennard said. “We used the funding to purchase meals (in Huntington) from local restaurants and distribute them to nonprofits who were already feeding people, but it really supported their efforts and bolstered what they were doing.”

Rennard said for this round of funding, there were five different nonprofits that were paired with local restaurants in Upshur and Randolph counties.

“Each agency received 800 meals over four to six weeks,” she said.

The agencies included the Upshur Parish House, the Upshur County Senior Center and Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Buckhannon, in addition to the Randolph County Family Resource Network and the Randolph County Committee on Aging in Elkins.

“COVID-19 is a disaster, and we have a role to play,” Rennard said. “Our role evolved to undergirding, especially, organizations feeding people and we have done a lot of that. With regard to the food, this project was borne from a conversation about how we can expand that effort to undergird the food distribution. You just do not know what people are going through. Most of the foundations and funders do not have the opportunity to support the business community.”

“With this, they were able to support the business community and it was a win-win-win with projects that made everyone feel good,” Rennard added.

Janell Ray, executive director of the Pallottine Foundation in Buckhannon, said in conversations with WV VOAD in April, there was talk about funneling some money to small businesses so they can help their people stay employed and doors stay open by providing meals to some of the nonprofits who are helping provide food to people in the community.

“We implemented that program in Huntington first,” Ray said. “I talked with Cathy Rennard and told her I thought we could do this in Buckhannon, too, so our thought process from the start was this is a two-for-one type of benefit – if we could provide money to VOAD who can give money to restaurants, which can then, in turn, stay open by providing food for people who are hungry or who have food insecurities, the businesses win and the nonprofits win. That was the way this was set up.”

Ray said one of the focuses of the Pallottine Foundation is food insecurity. In fact, according to its website, the mission of the organization is to support initiatives that promote healthy lifestyles and transformative change in the community.

“There is such an issue [with food insecurity] in West Virginia,” she said. “There are so many people who need help. During COVID, there are even more. You have kids who were dependent on school meal programs that are not in the school anymore. There were seniors who cannot get to their senior centers. Those systems were not halted but have been reduced in their scope and we partnered with VOAD. So, we decided this would help with the economic side as well as help with food insecurities.”

Kristi Wilkerson, director of the Upshur Parish House, said her organization was selected to help with distribution of meals in Upshur County, adding that locally-owned restaurants received grant money to provide the meals while partnering with local organizations to distribute the meals. Wilkerson said the Parish House worked with C.J. Maggie’s and provided 200 meals each week for four weeks.

“We split our 200 meals into two different nights and distributed meals on Tuesday and Thursday evenings,” Wilkerson said. “We actually served up to 131 meals each evening, which included a bag meal of sandwiches or pepperoni rolls.”

Wilkerson said the Parish House summer intern Sean Crites organized most of the distribution for the meals. Crites said every night they distributed the meals, the number of folks seeking the meals has grown.

“We have had great feedback from our neighbors we are serving,” Crites said. “It has been great to see people in the middle of the pandemic as well. We were careful to wear our masks and practice safe social distancing.”

Crites said he felt the meal partnership not only helps the neighbors but also helps boost the local economy.

“The neighbors have said the food has been wonderful and has been easy,” Crites said. “There has been an air of gratitude for us and for C.J. Maggies for them preparing the meals.”

Sarah Campbell, director of the Upshur County Senior Center, said they took their meals on Tuesdays to the Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department and on Thursdays, they handed out meals at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department. Campbell said they do outreach dinners at those departments and were selected because they are further out in the community.

“We have partnered with Stone Tower Brews for the meals, and everyone has said they are fantastic,” Campbell said. “They have given us great reviews, and we are having a lot of fun with that. The benefit of this program is we get to see some new people, and people can take those meals and do something like go on a picnic.”

Courtney Page, manager of Stone Tower Brews, said the coffee shop and restaurant was grateful to be a part of the VOAD and Pallottine Foundation partnership to help those facing food insecurities.

“We were happy to prepare the meals for those in need,” Page said. “It was a really great project they came up with to make meals for others. We enjoyed helping in this initiative – we like to help the Buckhannon community.”

Chapel Hill United Methodist Church partnered with JAWS BBQ! and opted to serve 100 meals every Wednesday for eight weeks.

“We normally do not have more than 85 people for our meals,” Diane Kimble, Chapel Hill UMC administrative assistant, said, adding that their crowds went up to 150 people seeking food on Wednesdays.

“We have had enough to feed everyone, and we were thrilled to have him here,” she said. “We add the fruit, dessert and a drink.”

Kimble said partnering with other entities saved time.

“In the past, we would cook the food and have the food ready to go,” Kimble said. “This project freed up some of our time to work with someone else. The owner of JAWS BBQ! (Gary Connell) said he has done a lot of catering, but he has never done anything like this where he sees the people line up and come to the door and take the meals.”

“We know the need, and we are spreading the awareness,” Kimble added. “I think it has really helped to spread the knowledge of what is going on in little Buckhannon, and I think it helps us to know how lucky we are.”

To learn more about the mission of the Pallottine Foundation, click here.

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