After 20 years with Debbie West at the helm, the Clifton Forge Area Food Pantry will welcome Evelyn Cooper as its president/director/manager, beginning with the new year, as West heads off into retirement.
West began her journey at the CFAFP as a “housewife looking for food” after her husband was stricken by a massive heart attack. She soon found herself at the food pantry signing up for food. To feel like “she was paying back,” she asked, then managers Dick and Ruth Powell, whether she could volunteer.
“You’re going to be running this someday,” said Dick two weeks into West’s volunteer services. “Not in this lifetime,” responded West at that time but has since learned “to never say never.”
Three months into her volunteer services, when West was helping one-day-a-week, Dick got sick and very soon passed away. Suddenly, “the food pantry was dumped into my lap,” said West. She explained that she didn’t have a clue as to what she was doing. “I was just a housewife helping to pack boxes; with no business savvy nor any college, I had to pretty much do it all on my own by trial and error,” added West.
She soon hooked up with Feeding America and they helped her tremendously. Soon after, Walmart and Kroger came on board to assist by supplying produce and West was volunteering five-days-a-week, yet the pantry was only open one-day-a-week. Currently, the pantry is open three-days-a-week.
It all started with one building, known as Building 1. When the Local Office on Aging moved out, the CFAFP ended up with the three buildings they had occupied, enabling them to add a clothes closet, administrative offices, and a storage room. They have since expanded to eight buildings, including the one that burned down.
“Building 1, where we kept the food burned down right after a shipment of food had been delivered,” said West. The town was gracious, they came right in, and they helped so we were able to get enough food and we never had to close,” added West. She credits the Town of Clifton Forge as having always been a supporter and “they continue to do so.”
Retiring is bittersweet for West. While she looks forward to recouping some of the time she’s lost with family, she has grown to love many of her loyal and dedicated clients, volunteers, and donors. “They have become friends and I couldn’t have done it without them,” said West.
West, currently lives next door to the CFAFP, plans to downsize to a smaller home but will remain in the area and plans to continue to volunteer and make herself available to help. She believes Cooper will take the CFAFP where it needs to go, to include digitizing the massive amounts of paperwork, which she has already started doing.
Some of West’s accomplishments over the years are as follows: making the pantry’s name legal; getting approved as a 501-c charitable organization; insuring the property; expanding to eight buildings; growing from one to 17 volunteers; and putting on three roofs. The Town of Clifton Forge outfitted the rest of the buildings with roofs.
The keys will be handed off to Cooper on Jan. 2nd and she will become the president/director/manager. She brings with her a background in social services, knowledge of the community, and computer skills. “I wasn’t going to turn this over to anybody,” said West who believes Cooper is a right fit for the job.
Cooper retired from the Alleghany-Covington Department of Social Services two years ago and felt like she needed something to do. “There was a need because I had read that the pantry was in danger of closing,” said Cooper. She wanted to do something fulfilling in the community, so she went down and met West.
In March, when Cooper went in to apply for the position, she started working that day and has been there ever since, learning all the ropes from West. “She is going to bring in some new changes, which is exciting,” said West.
In West’s own words: “I would like to thank all the individuals to include the clients, donors, volunteers, churches, various organizations, and the Town of Clifton Forge, who made it possible for the pantry to remain open all these years. This pantry would not have survived without their generosity and dedication to see that those in need get the help they need. They all deserve honorable mention, and I am so grateful for all they do for this much needed cause.
In closing I just want to say that it has been an honor and a pleasure to serve this community. My retirement doesn’t come easy because I’ve grown to love so many of our volunteers and clients over the years. It’s hard to say good-bye. I know Evelyn will do a fantastic job as we go forward into the new year and I wish her and all involved the best of luck, moving forward.”
Cooper doubts that West will ride off into the sunset as she has lived a life of service. “She was a foster parent for 13 years,” said Cooper. Nearly 100 kids came in and out of her home over the years. She had as many as 13 at one time. “It’s always been about the children and the elderly,” added West in conclusion.
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