The Ampersand Pantry Project free lunch program passed a milestone last week when it provided its 20,000th free meal since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is made possible by a dedicated core of volunteers, restaurants and donors.
Organizers say one volunteer stands out. Hamilton native Richard deButts was presented with the Ampersand Award during a July 5 celebration at the Project’s temporary headquarters on East Market Street in Leesburg.
The free lunch program is an expansion of the Ampersand Pantry Project’s initial effort, a little free pantry stocked with nonperishable food, diapers, and hygiene supplies on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. The Project’s founder, Leesburg attorney Peter Burnett, built the pantry and installed it next to Crossroads Baptist Church earlier this year. When COVID-19 put many people out of work, the project expanded.
DeButts played a critical role in converting the former Tastee Freez restaurant on East Market Street for high-volume, no-contact food distribution. He installed the roller conveyor system to provide contactless delivery of lunches, diapers and other supplies to people coming by the drive-through window. He also helped with many other tasks, including hanging signs and banners, setting up a generator to run fans for the volunteers working in the old building, and providing tables and chairs for lunch assembly.
DeButts also has solicited cash donations and in-kind donations, arranged for the delivery of thousands of fresh apples for the lunches, and picked up the lunches donated by the Hamilton Station Gastropub near his home. He manages the daily meal count and oversees the onsite contribution box he arranged to have made and installed by Purcellville welder Steve Fleming.
“Richard is the first volunteer to arrive and last to leave every day,” Burnett said. “His upbeat nature and positive attitude are contagious for other volunteers and are keys to the lunch program’s success.”
The lunch program will continue as long as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts Leesburg residents, and as long as funds to operate it are available from the generosity of the community.
Learn more at burnettwilliams.com/about/ampersand-pantry-project-2.