Community continues to help others as shutdown lingers

While many of our neighbors in Pulaski County are fighting financial distress and boredom after weeks of self-isolation, lockdown and social distancing, it is encouraging to know that caring individuals, churches and businesses are continuing to find ways to show love for their neighbors.

Stories of generosity continue to become evident, helping to promote good will and hope, while we travel through this phase of life together.

Only days after the schools in Virginia were closed by order of Governor Ralph Northam because of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerned citizens went into action to provide breakfasts and lunches for all school children in the county.  A few local restaurants began offering take-out or drive-up breakfasts and lunches to ensure children had food to eat.  Tom’s Drive-in and Tha Dawg House in Pulaski and Patty’s Kitchen in Dublin offered a free breakfast and lunch to any Pulaski County student.

Any child that participates in the free meal program at school can come by Tom’s Drive-In Monday through Friday and pick up a to-go Pancake and Sausage Breakfast Free! Offer is good through May 2020.

Patty’s Kitchen will provide a free to-go pancake breakfast and lunch for any Pulaski County Student from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. through May 2020.

Starting March 18, under the supervision of School Nutrition Director Ethelene Sadler, all students in the Pulaski County School District were able to receive a free breakfast and lunch.

Sadler stated, “That first weekend when all this broke loose (March 14), we worked so many hours.  Every district had to come up with a plan that day on how they were going to serve food to these children.  It was on everybody’s mind: ‘we have to provide meals for these children.’  I had a lot of nights I couldn’t sleep thinking about how we could get everything working together.”

“The thing about this meal distribution is that we are reaching a wide variety of students – not just individuals qualifying for free or reduced meals.  All students are eligible.  We didn’t want there to be a stigma.  We wanted every student, regardless of status, to get good nourishing meals,” explained Sadler.

Although the current program will end on May 20, Phase II will take its place, beginning on May 27.  This is because school groundskeepers have maintenance work to do and custodial workers need to clean the schools for an anticipated fall re-opening.

In Phase II, the number of distribution centers will be reduced to four:

Critzer Elementary, Pulaski County High School, Riverlawn Elementary and Snowville Elementary.  The format will be the same where a parent will drive-up and receive a carefully packed bag of 10 meals for each child.

According to Sadler, “We have served over 60,000 meals since beginning the program.  We started out in unchartered waters and had to figure it out as we went.  This was a collaborative effort with lots of hands involved in this process … a huge task and it took a lot of people to get this job done.  It was a heart matter to the 43 nutrition staff, custodians, bus drivers, grounds workers, teachers, principals, volunteers … they all just wanted to come alongside and get this job done.”

Several area churches have been distributing food and supplies through their food pantries to help sustain families in our community.

Heritage Church of Dublin continues to provide food boxes on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with drive-up service.  Heritage Cares director Harriet Berry, serving for 17-years,

says, “It is vital that anyone who needs food doesn’t go without – especially the disabled and senior citizens who are afraid to go out shopping.  We are able to distribute standard issue dry goods and frozen meats from Feeding America; breads, fresh fruit, and vegetables from Wal-Mart. During this time, if a senior citizen doesn’t have a ride, they can call Agency on Aging who will pick up food for them.”

Heritage Cares serves between 400 – 500 families per month.

Pastor Dennis Jones and his wife, Cheryl of Dublin Baptist Church distribute food and supplies on Tuesdays and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Members of the church have made face masks for distribution, also.

Pastor Jones, who had been praying for a baby infected with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), began doing extensive research about viruses.  In January, while investigating a company that was working with a vaccine, Jones was alerted about the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan.  Realizing the potential magnitude of the virus, he began to purchase supplies and food to help sustain his church and community in case of crisis.

“We purchased 300 pounds of beans, 300 pounds of rice and boullion cubes; and combined them into individual packages consisting of one pound of beans, one pound of rice and bouillion.  We included preparation instructions for people unfamiliar with cooking items that were not pre-packaged or pre-cooked.  We also included the Rev. Billy Graham pamphlet, ‘Steps to Peace with God’ with every food packet,” commented Jones.

“Other churches have donated items to us for community distribution. We’ve received items from the Dublin United Methodist Church, Pulaski Church of God, and other organizations.

Pastor Terrie Sternberg of Trinity Luthern Church in Pulaski reports that, “We, along with other area churches, are providing beautiful hand-crafted face masks for long-term care facilities, social workers, and people in resident facilities.  A group of five women from our church’s Quilting Ministry have started a Facemask-making Ministry and produced over 300 face masks with more coming. One of the women had sustained a broken ankle before the COVID-19 lockdown but is still pursuing her sewing while nursing her injury.”

Sternberg also noted that Pastor Will Shelton of First United Methodist Church in Pulaski has initiated the “Pulaski Prays for Teachers Project,” along with Rev. Melissa McNair-King of first Presbyterian Church in Pulaski and Pastor Sternberg.

Partnering with 24 other Pulaski County churches across eight different denominations, they have agreed to pray for every Pulaski County School employee by name. That’s every teacher, bus driver, office staff, you name it, with one person praying for one employee by name.

As of this writing, prayer volunteers have covered 83 percent of the 697 school system employees and committed to pray for them from now through the summer.

Dr. Paige Cash, Robinson District representative on the Pulaski County School Board noted the effort during Monday’s board meeting.

Many other individuals and organizations are contributing to the well-being of our community in various ways, some of which are not yet in the foreground.  Individuals like Anthony Akers, Pastor Don Hanshew of Dublin United Methodist Church, Joe and Kelly Blankenship of City of Refuge, New River Valley Community Services and Taking It To The Streets Ministry are working to bring resources together that will further benefit the community.

If you know of other individuals or organizations who are striving to enhance the Pulaski County community during this time, please contact The Patriot at: