by Geoff Fox
Two years ago, when Food Lion moved to Hancock in place of Pittman’s Market, a partnership with Interfaith Service Coalition was formed to provide food to the community outreach’s food pantry.
On Thursday, September 26, associates from the Hancock store, as well as those from Berkeley Springs, volunteered at the ISC food bank to paint walls, build shelving units, and install a new commercial freezer at the food bank.
A total of 12 people worked on the project, including associates and corporate level helpers.
Food Lion is putting $202,000 of major renovations into five food pantries within its footprint. ISC is among those five.
The other four include Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Wake Tech Community College, Raleigh, N.C.; Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore in Norfolk, Va.; and Horry County Council on Aging in Conway, S.C.
The renovation makeover takes what was a 10 by 15 space and takes it another four feet out with a row of shelving in the middle and new industrial strength shelving.
Extra space for the food bank has been added from the Loaves and Fishes thrift store next door. Space in the store was freed up by moving furniture from that store to Martha’s Treasures on Main Street.
Food Lion’s Manager of External Communications Benny Smith said the renovation was part of “The Great Pantry Makeover.”
Knowing this area of the county is food insecure, Smith said they wanted to make sure the families were able to get food.
“I think a lot of people, maybe not here, but a lot of people just think of Food Lion as a grocery store, but we try to go beyond our doors into the community and showing up like we are today and putting mussel behind our words,” Smith said.
The makeover projects are a huge initiative with the five different locations.
Smith said the locations in the Carolinas and Virginia might have been burned or damaged in hurricanes.
In addition, Food Lion is sending food to 150 agencies to aid their pantry efforts.
Smith said the Hancock renovation cost around $15,000 on its own.
Food Lion has been doing the renovations for five years with each year bringing a change. Last year, they did 30 pantries in 30 days.
It was former Customer Service Manager Travis Walters that got the ball rolling for ISC to get the upgrades.
Walters, who now holds the same position at the Frederick location, said he was aware of the pantry renovations. While he had heard of the renovations, Walters had never participated in one.
He sent an email to Smith telling him about Hancock’s food pantry and in the email, Walters explained how small Hancock was, how it needed some help.
Normally, Food Lion reaches out to the food banks inquiring about the top agencies in need.
Smith said Walters’ email came before the process for deciding for the makeover project started.
Knowing how much ISC meant to the Hancock community, Smith said they wanted to do more, but wanted to hold the request until “The Great Pantry Makeover.”
In reviewing the applications, Food Lion decided they needed to come back to Hancock and do some major renovations at ISC.
Smith then replied to Walters and told him about Food Lion doing the five makeovers and that Hancock was chosen as one of the five.
“It’s a pretty proud moment for myself and for the rest of the team here at Interfaith and Food Lion to make sure that we can leave no one hungry,” Walters said.
With Walters being in the community, knowing the needs, and volunteering in the community, Smith said Food Lion had to do the renovation.
“Just that passion from the associate, I’m like, ‘we need to do it,” so we decided to do it,” Smith said.
Walters added he was happy to be at the remodel.
“It does a heart good to volunteer,” and make sure others aren’t going hungry and the shelves are stocked.
For Smith, it isn’t hammers, nails, paint, and food that make the renovation special, because that’s what everyone sees.
“What they don’t see is these associates that are wearing the blue shirts who live here, they see people coming into our stores that are hungry,” he said. “They see people saying, ‘Well, do I need to put this back,’ or ‘Do I need to do this?’”
Rev. Allen Weatherholt of the Interfaith Service Coalition said it was a wonderful gift Food Lion was giving the organization.
Weatherholt, who is the President of ISC as well as the pastor of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, said one of the missions ISC started out with was to feed the hungry and it still is.
“The food pantry is kind of the anchor of our food programs and to improve the pantry and make it larger will be a wonderful thing,” he said.
The relationship between ISC and Food Lion the past two years has been generous, Weatherholt said.
Food Lion has been giving food to ISC on a daily basis and assists with Micah’s Backpack program, which sends food home to needy local students.
“For them to do this is a real gift,” Weatherholt said.
ISC Executive Director Debbie Cohill said the renovations expand the capacity to purchase more food and serve more people in the community.
“It’s very, very exciting. They have been wonderful to us,” Cohill said about the work Food Lion has done.
With the makeover, Cohill said it’s “pretty awesome” that Food Lion employees are out and being hands on.”
“Often times, you get money from people who just write checks and pass it on, and that’s fine, I understand that,” Cohill said. “It’s really nice that their employees are hands on and are seeing it happen.”
Cohill said the organization is really grateful for the opportunity to have the renovation done on the food pantry.
“This is really big for the Hancock area,” she said.
Cohill also noted how much of a gift the renovation is for ISC by noting the painting, flooring, commercial freezer, new walls, and a pallet of food and perishables being stocked at the food bank.
The partnership between the two comes from the Maryland Food Bank through the Retail Rescue program.
Each day, she said, ISC goes out to Food Lion, weighs the food, log it in, and then send it out to the community.
If there are people who are interested and meet income guidelines, or a little over but from a household that’s food insufficient, Cohill said they should contact ISC and be put on the list. The group can be reached at 301-678-6605.
Food Lion is campaigning to provide a billion meals by 2020 by using the hashtags #foodlionfeeds #noemptyplate when people share a photo of themselves holding an empty plate on social media.