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To the person who’s helping the hungry: Thanks a million

  • Lenny (left) and Betsey Virgin return food items to the shelves of the Gospel Light Food Pantry on Hall Street in Concord. The pantry assisted a record 43 clients on the last Saturday of January. “The need is growing,” Betsey said. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Lenny Virgin stocks the bread shelf with donations at the Gospel Light Food Pantry on Hall Street in Concord on Feb. 15. The pantry assisted a record 43 clients on the last Saturday of January. “The need is growing,” Betsey said. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Betsey Virgin returns food items to the shelves of the Gospel Light Food Pantry on Hall Street in Concord on Feb. 15, 2017. The pantry assisted a record 43 clients on the last Saturday of January. “The need is growing,” Betsey said. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Eileen Groll Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank, left, and Nancy Mellitt, director of development, at the food bank’s headquaters in Manchester last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Eileen Groll Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank, right, and Nancy Mellitt, director of development, at the food bank’s warehouse facility in Manchester last week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/17/2017 9:45:33 PM

Somewhere, someone with a lot of money and a big heart deserves a pat on the back.

We don’t know who this person is, the one who donated $1 million to the New Hampshire Food Bank this winter. And maybe it’s better that way. Maybe it’s better that we admire and praise from afar.

Sort of like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Let the anonymity encompass a community of selflessness, an overall spirit, sacrifice, something bigger than any one individual.

“We have no clue who it is,” Nancy Mellitt, the N.H. Food Bank’s director of development, told me one recent afternoon, before taking me on a tour of the bank’s cavernous warehouse.

“I received a call from representatives for the donor saying they had a donor who was interested in donating a million dollars. I was in my office. I fell out of my chair. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed.”

Mellitt got the call last Halloween. She thought what you’d think. She thought this was a trick, not a treat, and that’s what she told the person on the phone that day.

“Whoever was on the phone laughed,” Mellitt told me. “I was told, ‘We love making these calls and helping.’ I told Bruce that he needed to come in here.”

That would be Bruce Wilson, the food bank’s director of operations. He couldn’t repeat verbatim what he said the moment he learned about the anonymous donation, but it sure sounded colorful.

After all, what would you say?

“Seeing how this will be read in the newspaper, we’ll have to paraphrase,” Wilson told me. “This is the largest gift not only in N.H. Food Bank History, but Catholic Charities history as well, at least in my lifetime here. It’s a huge impact on our agency partners through the state, so we’re thrilled.”

A published report said it’s the largest gift in the organization’s 33-year history.

The check was brought to Mellitt and Wilson by a pair of unknown representatives – not the donor – on Dec. 20, and now those agency partners Wilson spoke about, 430 of them throughout the state, are dancing down the aisles, between shelves of the food they give out to those who need it.

Betsey and Lenny Virgin run one such distribution outlet, the Gospel Light Food Pantry on Hall Street. It’s open the last Saturday of each month, from 9 to 10 a.m.

They’ve been running the pantry for nine years. They’re a team of angels, having cared for Betsey’s mother after building an extension on their house, the start of their own hospice program.

They took Betsey’s mother on a camping trip to Maine and to the beach before she died. Then they cared for a man until his death, listening to stories about his days in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Then, after his death, they cared for his sister until she passed.

Now, with this extra money given by you-don’t-know-who, life for others is looking up, which means life for this couple is looking up, too. They drive to the Manchester headquarters in their truck to pick up supplies, sometimes attaching a trailer for extra room.

“We thought it was great, it was awesome,” Betsey told me. “Everyone struggles at some point and some time to keep going. It’s just wonderful someone stepped to the plate to help them out. We were so happy.”

Folks at the food bank said $800,000 from the donation will go toward reducing the shared maintenance fee, cutting it in half. The rest of the money will support related programs, like culinary training and outreach programs that teach nutritional education.

In addition, the food bank will use the gift to sponsor six mobile food pantries, at $5,000 each, that are normally supported by corporations.

Two weekends ago, 21,000 pounds of food was brought to Colebrook Elementary School and the Pittsburg Fire Department, where people down on their luck lined up for pasta, apples, fresh eggs, yogurt and bread.

Eileen Liponis, the food bank’s executive director, called the experience “humbling.”

“It was very hard,” said Liponis, who’s been on the job for six weeks and was not part of the initial negotiations with the mystery person. “They don’t want to make eye contact with you. They’re embarrassed.”

Liponis noted that 15 percent of people eligible for food stamps don’t know it. She hopes the million-dollar surprise will, at least somewhat, help those unfamiliar with the system.

Meanwhile, the staffs at the 11 Concord food pantries continue to celebrate. Alice Blodgett, the director of operations at Wolf Pac Community Meals on Pitman Street, is an example of that.

“That was awesome, giving a gift like that, that much money,” Blodgett said. “All I can say is it was amazing.”

Walk into the back warehouse at the food bank’s headquarters, part of its 60,000 square-foot layout, and the ceiling reaches forever, and food boxes on pallets stretch as far as the eye can see. Lots of the items, the bottled water and peanut butter and cookies and onions and oranges and potatoes, were scheduled for shipping soon.

And at a reduced cost, thanks to someone, somewhere who’s worth a lot.

In more ways than one.

“It’s a great help to all of us,” Blodgett said. “If I knew who it was, I’d say thank you.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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