Food Pantry


It’s an ordinary Friday afternoon at the food pantry, if ever there was one.  The parking lot beside the church steadily fills. Stepping out of their cars, men and women migrate towards the rear door of the church. Some carry bags, others canes; some carry both. Behind the building, a modest sized crowd has already gathered. Older women rest on the benches by the door, others stand around discussing the weather and exchanging pleasantries. Women (starting with the oldest) go first in the food line on Fridays and their punctuality and eagerness suggests that they haven’t forgotten. By 3:15pm, the gathering-white, black, Asian, and Hispanic alike-has become sizable and the mood more spirited as they await his and the volunteers’ arrival.

His name is Everette H. Newman but few know that. Since birth, his nickname has been “Thumper,” but in neither appearance nor attitude does he resemble Bambi’s small, anxious rabbit friend. Thumper is a tall but unassuming man with a calm, friendly bearing. He begins his work most mornings at 6:00 am picking up food from local grocery stores to delivering it to the church for the food pantry and to designated drop-offs in underprivileged areas. Patrons come to receive meats, desserts, breads, and produce for the week. Some on his delivery route call him “Ben” because of the two black wrist bands he wears bearing that name. Ben Newman is the namesake and inspiration of Thumper’s charity, A Gift From Ben. As a result of a tragic automobile accident, Ben, Thumper’s son, passed away at fourteen years old. The accident left an indelible mark on Thumper. Taking the loss as a cue to change his life’s direction, Thumper dramatically shifted gears, trading a life of profitable timeshare reality for a life dedicated to a cause dear to his son, helping feed the hungry. The product is A Gift From Ben, Williamsburg’s largest food charity which delivers more than half a million pounds of food a year to the community’s indigent and under resourced. AGFB has had a profound impact on Thumper and those whom he serves but they are not the only ones who have been affected.

By a magnetic combination of personality and mission, Thumper and his charity have managed to attract volunteers of all ages and backgrounds-clergy, students, retirees, immigrants, and even families. When asked why they come, their responses are simple and nearly identical: “I heard what he was doing and I wanted to help.” Their interest is logical. Aside from the occasional heavy lifting of boxes and the potential for messy hands from a damaged container, the work of fulfilling a basic need is incredibly rewarding. Clients are friendly and appreciative. Discipline problems are seldom, though the dessert table requires constant monitoring. During down times, volunteers chat amongst themselves about contemporary issues which somehow seem less significant against the more immediate needs made evident in the work of AGFB. Thumper contributes the occasional bawdy joke to lighten the atmosphere and gets everyone laughing, beginning with himself. At the end of the day, the room is swept and the tables cleaned. The freezers and refrigerators are left alone to hum as Thumper turns out the lights and closes the door. He thanks each volunteer, even the veterans, as though it was his or her first time assisting. As everyone prepares to drive away, a lone car arrives. The driver, running late, tentatively asks if they’ve closed. Without hesitation, Thumper dashes back to prepare a box for the last family. For him, charity wears no watch

This particular afternoon is much like any other. A handful of volunteers arrive, set out deli and dessert items and prepare the frozen meats for distribution. Music plays on the stereo as Thumper sits atop a chest freezer and surveys the day’s offerings. Rising, he moves towards the door. “How y’all doin?” he says, “It’s good to see everybody. We’re doing one deli and one dessert today and the oldest women will go first.”


John Bell


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