How one family helps feed 300 families a month
by MELODIE DAVIS
When Bucky Berry was a 5-year-old boy, he remembers living in a shack in Harrisonburg and not having enough to eat. He remembers how the Salvation Army came and put food on their table and toys under his Christmas tree.
The vision which motivates him to endure freezing cold sometimes for 24 hours or seven days a week, collecting cans and boxes of food from area shoppers for the hungry, started way back then.
“They [the Berry family]literally collect most of the food we use in a year to feed the 300 families a month who get food supplies from our food pantry,” says Ashley Gordon-Becker, director of financial development for Harrisonburg’s Salvation Army.
The massive food collections they spearhead is a family operation and Bucky clarifies they are just volunteers and as a family they choose to give the results to the Salvation Army rather than some other charity. They also attend the Salvation Army church.
Bucky is an entrepreneur with a heart of gold and the willingness to work hard. He says he would give away his last quarter. But he started earning quarters and dollars as a child—mowing lawns when he was just a boy— three to four yards a week. He started an official lawn mowing business in 1993, and has a rig marked “Bucky Berry Landscaping” you sometimes see parked around town. He cuts 25 to 30 residential and commercial yards through the spring, summer and fall and his wife, Pamela Kay Berry has worked at Kroger over 28 years to help support their family.
Eighteen years ago the Berrys were thrilled to be expecting a child, who ended up being premature and weighed just 1.8 pounds. Little Brent struggled for his life at the UVA Children’s Hospital for two months and was finally released. Brent loves helping with the food drives that are named in his honor.
Brent and Bucky are a team at the various collection sites they have set up around town over the last nine years. Son Brent hands out a slip of paper to customers going into stores listing the various products that work well for the food drives (see sidebar) and Bucky happily receives what the shoppers bring back out of the store to donate.
The week before Thanksgiving, the Berrys will head to the James Madison University campus to pick up the proceeds from a food drive carried out by students, and then from December 15-26 the Berrys will be conducting what has become their twice yearly food drives at Walmart, including collecting all 24 hours that Walmart is open. “Snow and ice don’t stop us,” says Bucky.
“There are many who may be down on their luck and go to bed hungry. If the Salvation Army wasn’t here, they’d be up a creek.”
“This is a pretty giving community,” Bucky explains further. “We meet a lot of people, and businesses come and donate lunch or supper for us or the other volunteers,” notes Bucky. He also enjoys ringing the Salvation Army bell for cash donations and has done so for 30 years straight. Gordon-Becker agrees regarding the generosity of local citizens and is especially grateful for the tremendous work of the Berry family which ran an extra two-day food drive in October at Red Front Supermarket, when the Salvation Army’s food pantry supplies were getting low and they weren’t sure whether food would last until the Christmas drive. The Salvation Army food pantry also gets donated perishable food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and other community donations.
Gary Stiteler, owner of Glen’s Fair Price Store and a former board president for the Salvation Army recalls seeing Bucky as a child ringing those Salvation Army bells at Christmas. He marvels at the dedication of the Berrys and notes especially how much Brent loves the work, often asking his father at the close of one work day or collection drive, “Can we do it again tomorrow?”
Next March, they will celebrate running the food drives for ten years, and Bucky’s family is planning some plaques and surprises for various helpers including the Harrisonburg Fire Department, Harrisonburg City Police and the Rockingham County Sheriff department, who have all helped organize and donate time to the food drives.
“There are many who may be down on their luck and go to bed hungry. If the Salvation Army wasn’t here, they’d be up a creek,” Bucky points out. He notes about 70 percent of Harrisonburg city children receive free or reduced price lunches and breakfast, which means their family has a low income and may go hungry on weekends or summers when they don’t get two meals at school.
Bucky also recounts the work involved in setting up the food drives, such as securing insurance, permits, banners that cost $700 to $800 which he arranges for sponsors to cover. “It takes weeks to plan a big event like that. You gotta get meals and drinks lined up for volunteers and 25 different sponsors; there’s a lot involved.”
His memories from childhood of when his family was going through hard times drive him forward. “My family wondered where we would get our food, and the Salvation Army kept us from going hungry.” He adds none of us know when a bad accident or illness means the loss of a job and anyone can end up needing help.
Bucky adds, “We’re going to keep doing this until we die or Jesus comes back. We do it for the citizens of this community.”
Melodie Davis, editor of Valley Living, is the mother of three adult daughters, and lives with her husband near Harrisonburg, Va. She also blogs at www.FindingHarmonyBlog.com.
Brent Berry Food Drive suggested items:
Proteins: canned chili; canned stews; soups; canned tuna, chicken, meat, or beef; powdered eggs; peanut butter, baked beans; canned nuts.
Grains: cereal (hot or cold), rice, pasta products, oatmeal, pancake mix, flour, dried beans, crackers, mashed potatoes, granola bars.
Fruits: canned fruit/fruit cups, dried fruit (raisins, plums, cranberries), applesauce, 100% juice and juice boxes, jams/jellies.
Vegetables: canned vegetables, tomato products – spaghetti sauce, etc. V-8 juice.
Dairy: dry milk, evaporated milk, instant breakfast drinks, canned or boxed pudding.
Other: sugar, vegetable oil, syrup, honey, salad dressing.
Baby products: diapers, wipes, formula, infant cereal, Ensure.
Hygiene Items: feminine products, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, soap, shaving items.