The all-volunteer Ampersand Pantry Project in Leesburg will provide another 350 meals to community members in need tomorrow —bringing the total number of meals it has handed out since its inception four months ago to 19,000.
In February, Leesburg Attorney Peter Burnett started the pantry project as a community donation box at Crossroads Baptist Church. A month later, when the coronavirus crisis hit, Burnett expanded the project to the former Leesburg Tastee Freez building on East Market Street, where volunteers use the building’s drive-through window and a roller belt to slide meals purchased or donated from area restaurants into the car windows of those in need.
Burnett said volunteers provide 350 meals to those in need every day of the week and that the total number of meals provided will reach 19,000 on Friday.
Burnett said it costs $1,500 a day to keep the project running. The meals volunteers hand out include sandwiches from different restaurants, which cost anywhere from $2 to $4, and other offerings from places like Del Rio, which charges $5 for a full meal. Some restaurants donate food to the pantry for free, like China King and Jasmine Chinese Cuisine and Sushi.
In addition to handing out those meals, pantry project volunteers also add juice, granola bars and apples to each package. They additionally offer diapers, pet food and even flowers, which the volunteers hand out to people as they enter the drive-through line.
On Thursday, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) visited that operation to get an up-close look and talk with residents passing through.
Burnett said he plans to continue the pantry project through at least July 4. Looking farther out, he said he might work to open a secondary location in Brandon Park off Harrison Street where community members—perhaps some of those who frequent the pantry—will volunteer their time to hand out specific items on any given day. Burnett said that would help to keep some community members from abusing the system and taking more food and other products than they need to turn around and sell to their neighbors.