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Peter Burnett’s Ampersand Pantry Project turns one!
When Peter Burnett first started the Ampersand Pantry Project in January of 2020, he really had no idea what kind of impact it would have on his Leesburg, VA, community. His initial plan — to have one or perhaps two stationary pantry boxes installed around town to help families in need — was about to grow into something he couldn’t have imagined.
“It was January of last year,” said Burnett, who is founder and
chairman of the Ampersand Pantry Project, “and the idea was
to have folks in my firm, and others that I know who are
thoughtful about folks that are having a tough time, volunteer
to put non-perishables in the pantry box on a regular basis,
so that people who found themselves in a jam could
get something to help get them through for a day or two.”
As the pandemic swept across Virginia (and the nation), many households were profoundly affected by the shutdown. Families who were already facing food insecurity now had children home all day and little to no food to feed them. Many jobs were lost and people were in need in increasing numbers. Peter saw an opportunity to scale the original Ampersand Pantry Project into something much larger that could help many more people. Using a building he already owned, he reached out to colleagues, friends, and local business owners to ask for donations to help get this larger project up and running and serving others.
One of the Ampersand Pantry Project’s goals was to not only help feed the community, but to assist local businesses and restaurants, who were also struggling under the weight of pandemic closures and restrictions. Entrees were purchased from various restaurants in and around the Leesburg area, for the cost of food plus a little extra to help the restaurants get back on their feet. After a lot of planning and coordinating and hard work, on April 16th, 2020, the Ampersand Pantry Project served its first meal.
“I thought we’d put out maybe 50, 60, 70 lunches each day,
and I also thought that we would be doing it for maybe a
couple of months,” Burnett said.
Volunteers served 50 meals the first day, a hundred the second day, and have been serving between 250 and 300 meals every day since. On Thanksgiving, 600 people were fed!
Peter Burnett realized, in his vision for The Ampersand Pantry Project, that need doesn’t stop at a good meal, but includes other necessities like diapers, baby wipes, pet food, fresh produce, hygiene products, sanitary products (hand sanitizer & masks), non-perishable food products, and even haircuts, all of which the Project provides. And as a special little gesture every day, each car is gifted a single carnation, a small expense meant to lift the spirits of those who are suffering through the many hardships and sadnesses of this pandemic year.
For the first few months of providing meals and supplies, the same crew of seven volunteers came in every single day to lead the program. Now there are over 100 active, dedicated volunteers who keep the service going. Several of those volunteers are also past or current recipients of the Ampersand Pantry’s food and supplies, and they feel passionate about wanting to do whatever they can to give back to the community that has stepped up to help them.
One year in, the Ampersand Pantry Project has hit the incredible milestone of having served 93,000 lunches and over 500,000 diapers, along with countless various other supplies, which attests to both the need among our friends and neighbors over this past very difficult year, and also the dedication of our community to helping those who are struggling. This year the winter holidays were especially difficult for some families with young children, and beyond providing thousands of meals, Burnett & Williams wanted to be sure that kids in the community were able to feel the joy of having a few presents to unwrap. With the help of a host of incredibly generous donors, the firm provided gifts for 420 children!
Keeping the Ampersand Pantry Project up and running for as long as it’s needed is a priority for Peter Burnett and the rest of the Project’s team, though it is an expensive proposition: the average cost is about $10,000 a week. The community has pulled together with remarkable strength to donate time, supplies, and money in support of everything the Project provides, and people from far and wide have even made donations via its GoFundMe page.
As we move toward a more hopeful phase of the pandemic, with ever-increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated and more people heading back to work, the hope is that the Ampersand Pantry Project will become less necessary. Until then, however, the Pantry Project’s many volunteers and donors are committed to serving those in need, and helping keep our community strong.