Village Harvest Report

Ben Hicks 

We introduced the Village Harvest at the end of 2014 as a response to the increasing costs of food and to ease some of the financial strain of those in our community. Port Royal can be described as a food desert. We set up the food distribution market style to make food available locally and easily accessible to those who need it. 

In 2018, the Village Harvest turned 4 years old. In celebration on “Giving Tuesday”, Nov. 27, the Harvest earned $1,267 to exceed its goal of $1,200.

We ended the year on a high note. 140 clients came in December, the highest monthly figure since August. We provided produce such as carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes and onions and in the grocery area an assortment of protein, veggies, and fruits. Meats (chicken, beef and pork) continue to be part of the distribution. Overall the percentages of different types of food are fairly even – 46% produce, 33% grocery and 22% meats.

During 2018, the Harvest reversed its increases and saw declines in numbers. However, clients on average received more food and thus more value for coming to the Harvest. Lower numbers means More Value.

The Village Harvest in 2018 was the first decline in both number of people served and foods provided since the ministry began Nov., 2014. Numbers served dropped from 1,898 to 1,289 and food from 16,924 to 14,931 over the year. Numbers thus fell by 3.2% and food 11.8%. Due to bad weather, there was no Harvest in March, 2018, and that affected the total numbers.

What were the reasons for the decline ? One would be the lack of calling to remind people of the harvest. This was a time consuming process to call up to 200 people. The thinking was that those who really needed and appreciated the harvest would track it on their calendars and come. Secondly, in some months the weather has been challenging. Lastly there may have been some improvement in food insecurity. From 2015-2016 it dropped from 12.2% to 12.1% in Caroline. In Essex, King George and Westmoreland the declines were more significant – Essex -.5%, King George, -.7%, Westmoreland -1.4%. The percentages, however, can hide the real need. Even at 12.1%, it includes 3,750 in Caroline County and in Essex because the county is smaller, 1,700 people.

For those who came to the Harvest in 2018, the value increased in both pounds provided and value of the food. Total pounds provided per person on average rose from 9  to  13 pounds. The value per shopper rose from $54 to $73 per month based on the pounds.

The increase in value per shopper did increase costs. The average costs in 2018 rose from $135 to $194 per month. The return from “Giving Tuesday” offset half the yearly costs which is estimated at $2,400.

The Harvest continued to provide additional services. In January, mittens were distributed. We distributed Whitman’s Samplers, donated by Russell Stover’s,  in April. In May, the distribution included dishwashing liquid which parishioners donated.  During July, August and September, school supplies were offered. We have given out referrals to medical clinics, such as Central Virginia Health Services. We publicize local events such as the Port Royal Fishing Day, which was held in June.   Sylvia Sellers brings the Little Free Library to the food distribution each month, so participants have a chance to take home books to enjoy. 

In summary, the distribution provides–

  1. Food for those who are being challenged economically. Funds saved from purchasing food can go toward other necessities. We have a variety of clients ‐ widows, single parents, senior adults on limited fix income, unemployed, working poor, people experiencing a crisis.
  2. Food for those who lack transportation to get it. Several clients from Caroline and Essex counties pick up food for those who can’t get to St Peter’s on their own.

The distribution provides benefits for those at St. Peter’s as well–

Teaching children about outreach and generosity. One summer in Vacation Bible school provided jars of beans with a recipe for a distribution. Enriching those at St. Peter’s who help with the distribution.

In many ways the Village Harvest has become our second congregation with examples of fellowship, outreach and education. Many at St. Peter’s serve each month. Johnny and Cooke Davis bring back food monthly from the Northern Neck Food Bank.

Two quotes taken a year ago from our volunteers at the 3rd anniversary highlight the role for the volunteers:

“I enjoy being a part of a team in our mission ‘To Do God’s Will’. “I think that our community is learning that we at St. Peter’s CARE and desire to share God’s love with our neighbors.”

“I help with Village Harvest because we get to know the people we help. These folks become friends not just a number. It just makes me happy that we can help in some small way to make things a little easier or better for them.”

Village Harvest helps those outside the church who are dealing with financial hardships as well as those inside the church who enjoy working one-on-one in service to others. The distribution strengthens our ties to the community we are charged to serve and strengthens our ties to God who nourishes us.