PRINCE GEORGE — Thanksgiving dinner was plentiful for many Prince George families who might have gone without the traditional large meal this year.
That’s due to the 38-year-old Prince George Food Bank, its many volunteers and its supporters, including the county, Food Lion, Perdue and other local businesses, as well as Richmond-based nonprofit Feed More.
On Tuesday, families lined up to get turkeys and other food items just two days before the holiday.
Andrea Barnes, the Food Bank’s manager for the past 18 years, said she couldn’t be paid for what she does. “I just am so passionate about it, they couldn’t pay me to do this,” she said. “I eat, live and sleep the Prince George Food Bank.”
She was joined by many other volunteers who give their time to bag up donated groceries and provide nourishment to those who are in need.
There are no requirements to qualify to receive goods from the Food Bank or the affiliated Clothes Closet, which provides donated clothing items at no cost. Both are housed at the Prince George Central Wellness Center off Prince George Drive.
Shirley Hudson hung up newly arrived clothing, saying, “I love helping out, and I think it’s wonderful that this all is free.”
That’s a change Barnes introduced, explaining that in the past, those who came to the facility could get free food but were charged for clothing. She felt all of the items should be free.
“All you have to do is be a Prince George resident to get the items you need here,” Barnes explained. ’There are no financial requirements.”
The pantry is open Tuesdays and Fridays, serving the public with a paper bag full of groceries, breads, cakes and meats — enough to last three weeks. Each day, Food Lion brings in more supplies that bring dinner to county residents’ tables.
Esther Manuel is proud of her work there. She explained that she first started volunteering on Fridays when she still worked and the organization was housed in the former county jail (set to become the location of the Regional Heritage Center’s Fire and EMS Museum). Now that she is retired, she volunteers even more. Manuel and Winfred Baldwin run the computer desk as clients come in.
“I love my time here,” she said, praising Barnes for her dedication.” It’s just a blessing to see how many people the Food Bank has helped.”
Each month, the organization serves about 800 people. Tuesday was U.S. Department of Agriculture day, when a tractor-trailer brings in a truckload of produce and other items from Richmond.
The Food Bank has grown over the years. It started out at a trailer at Gregory Memorial Church, then moved to the former jail and firehouse at the courthouse complex, before moving to the Central Wellness Center, located in the former Moore Middle School.
Often, Manuel said, people who come to the Food Bank for help are embarrassed about their situation. “I ask them if they have ever worked a day in their life,” she said. “And they say ‘Yes.’ And then I say, ‘Well, then you have paid taxes, you deserve this, so put your pride in your back pocket and let us help you — that’s what we’re here for.’”
Food Bank board president Helen Jones said that not everyone qualifies for food stamps, yet they still need assistance.
“Anyone can fall on hard times at any time,” she said. “They shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to come in here and get food or clothes it’s all about helping people, and often we see those who have been helped come back and help out themselves.”
By Adrienne Wallace, Herald-Post Editor