Empowering Culpeper is making sure families are Culpeper get a healthy meal.
The monthly USDA food distribution program handed out free groceries to residents last Saturday, as they do every third Saturday of the month.
Jill Skelton, food manager for Empowering Culpeper, said that the organization has been helping feed Culpeper residents for 14 years.
“People need it,” Skelton said.
Food is ordered through the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and most of it is free to the organization, with products they have to purchase coming at a USDA discount.
Last Saturday, more than 50 volunteers hurried to prepare the groceries for residents in need who started lining up in the Culpeper United Methodist Church parking lot at 6:30 a.m.
Food from the food bank sat alongside produce, bread from Panera Bread and venison from Hunters for the Hungry, all waiting to be loaded into grocery bags and taken home.
Skelton said that this past weekend, an estimated 200 families benefited. That’s about the average these days, though they’ve served more.
“We’ve seen the need increase, we’ve seen it spike at times,” Skelton said.
Volunteers help give out more than 200 individual bags of food, with local businesses and schools providing help. This past Saturday, volunteers from Kohl’s and Eastern View High School’s cheerleading program helped out.
“We have a lot of community partners,” Skelton said. “That’s one of our really positive things, we truly are a community program. EVHS every month sends an athletic team. We have kids from the OPTIONS program that help.”
Outside, the Culpeper Lions Club screening van provided eye and hearing screenings to youth who waited with their families.
The program has been at CUMC for about seven years. The first few years they operated out of the George Washington Carver Building before moving in town to the former Providence Bible Church location.
Residents don’t have to fill out paperwork prior to coming to pick up food, Skelton said.
“They just have to come,” Skelton said. “They don’t have to bring any proof of income, they just need to come. For a family of four, they will get about nine bags of food.”
Skelton said those who come pick up groceries are grateful, and should be commended for noticing they have a need.
“For a lot it’s not what they would choose to do, but they recognize they need help and they’re showing enough smarts to know that we can help with that,” Skelton said. “A lot of our volunteers are in fact their customers because they want to give back.”
Volunteer Marian Dykes has been with the program since the start, when a young man from AmeriCorp recognized the need in the community 14 years ago.
“There’s some pretty sad stories out there, and they need food,” Dykes said.
She said it’s heartwarming as a volunteer to be able to help, and it’s important for community members to see that there is in fact a need.
“Especially the young people, they get introduced to people who need help they might not otherwise know,” Dykes said.
Hallie Adams, a ninth grader at EVHS and a cheerleader, packed bags early Saturday morning as residents lined up outside.
“There’s a lot of people that want to help with this,” Adams said. “It makes me feel good because I’m helping people and making sure they don’t go hungry.”
A group from Kohl’s prepared lettuce to be packed into bags, and Culpeper resident and Kohl’s employee Autumn Smith had her family with her to help.
“It’s very important for us to give back because I grew up here,” Smith said. “If we can make it easier on them for the holidays, it’s important to us. I never realized how many people that I know, needed this kind of help. It feels good to give back.”
Andrea Dick, a Kohl’s employee, said the company’s willingness to volunteer played a big part in why she wanted to work there.
“That’s the whole reason I wanted to work at Kohl’s because they do this kind of stuff,” Dick said. “I’ve done this before and it’s just very uplifting to see everybody receive help.”