By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
We’ve all been at the grocery store, pushing our buggies down this aisle and that, searching for just the right can of soup or fruit for our family.
Most of us walk straight past those large industrial-size cans of fruits, vegetables and the like, hunkering down on the bottom shelf.
But the next time you’re at the store, bend down, pick a couple up, put them in your cart, take them home and give them to the Union Mission’s food pantry.
The mission, under the umbrella of West Virginia Rescue Ministries, serves three meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — every day to anyone who wants one, for free.
It’s a pretty big task, considering the mission does not pursue local, state or federal funding. It operates solely on private donations and contributions.
Like the food it receives from the Times West Virginian's Gift of Love food drive.
More than 150 people a day find a meal and kind word at the Jefferson Street facility.
“Those numbers depend on what part of the month it is,” said mission executive director Pastor George Batten.
“At the front of the month, we have lower numbers. But as the month grows on, those numbers climb.”
The mission receives funding from the Marion County Commission “from time to time,” Batten said.
“They’ve been very generous with us. We went to them one time to ask for help with our general budget. That budget does not including funding from federal, state or local entities.”
About $1,500 a month (or about $34,000 a year) is budgeted for food and related expenses, he said.
“Truthfully, I’d expect that to double if not for the donations,” he said.
“The Gift of Love is extremely important. Donations make the difference. My budget would be more expensive if it were not for the help the community gives.
“Every piece of food that is donated saves that much from our budget.”
The mission is well-known for its annual holiday meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
But the everyday meals must be supplied as well.
That’s where the industrial-sized can of peas you just bought for the food drive comes in.
That number 10 can can feed up to 25 servings.
“Outside of fresh vegetables like lettuce or tomatoes, we don’t spend a lot of money on vegetables because of donations,” Batten said.
“A lot of our budget is tied up in meat or protein products.
“Donations are a godsend,” he said. “They alleviate the pressure on our budget. They help us feed hungry people. So that one can is a double whammy. It eases the budget and helps somebody in the end.”
He knows most shoppers pass the larger cans without a second thought.
“They don’t think about it. You see a can like that and think ‘restaurant.’ And I say, think of the mission.”
He said to his knowledge, the mission is the only facility that opens its doors to the outside for three meals a day.
“This is an essential service to Marion County,” Batten said.
“We serve good, quality meals. Our staff does an exceptional job of making sure anybody who comes in gets something to eat.”
Think your single donation won’t help? He disagrees.
“Add your one donation to someone else’s one, and that’s two. And to somebody else’s, and that’s three.
“That’s how you make a big difference ... one at a time.”
To help the Union Mission and all the other food pantries, the Times West Virginian is collecting food for, here’s what you can do:
• Individuals are encouraged to bring boxes or bags of canned goods or nonperishable food items to our business office at 300 Quincy St. We will be collecting these items Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Thursday, Feb. 13.
• Businesses, schools or offices can set up satellite donation locations to collect items through Thursday, Feb. 13. We’ll even come and pick up all items collected.
• Community-service organizations, schools, school programs, churches or civic groups can take this on as a project. Again, anything you collect, we’ll pick up to be distributed with the other donations.
For more information on the Gift of Love, call the Times West Virginian’s newsroom at 304-367-2540.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.