Winning combination

A club’s ballfield concession stand doubles as a donation sorting station.

Story By Julie Saetre • Photos  by Randall Wolf

Every spring for 75 years, the Staunton Kiwanis Club in Virginia has run a youth baseball program. Every year, that is, until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the beloved tradition to a screeching halt. 

“This is the first time we’ve canceled a season,” says Jenny Buchanan, the club’s immediate past president. “And we pushed it back. We just kept delaying it and delaying it and delaying, until we knew: We don’t have the money or the manpower to enforce (health precautions) and keep everybody safe.”

When the ballpark sat empty, so did the club’s concession stand, where young players and their family members purchased popcorn, hot dogs, candy and cold beverages. And that’s when the Staunton Kiwanians took inspiration from their sister club in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

The Kiwanis Club of Staunton gathers and distributes donated food and other products from Martin’s each Wednesday. Kiwanis members sort the donated items at the Kiwanis concession stand in Gypsy Hill Park. The club began doing this in April 2020 to help provide food and other household items to families affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19. The donations have been distributed to Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the Salvation Army, SACRA (Staunton Augusta Church Relief Association) and the SPCA. (Randall K. Wolf)

The Charlottesville Kiwanis Club formed a partnership with a local Walmart store to pick up donations of nonperishable items (clothing, small electronics, toys, school supplies, sports equipment, household items, lawn and garden supplies) from the retail giant and distribute the merchandise to area nonprofit organizations.

“It’s just a great way to get stuff that would have been discarded from Walmart in the hands of people in the community who need it,” Buchanan says.

One of the Staunton members had a contact at Martin’s, a grocery store chain. Soon, the club had arranged a partnership with a local Martin’s store and began receiving donated items on a weekly basis.

“Basically, they go through their inventory (for) stuff that’s nearing the sell-by date, or they’re changing display items or they’re discontinued items. They have it loaded up in the back of the store, and we load it up in a pickup truck, take it to our concession stand and sort through it,” Buchanan explains.

Sorting is no small task. The club receives hundreds of pounds of donated merchandise each week, from pantry staples to popcorn, personal hygiene products to pet food. Once the (masked, socially distanced) members have inventoried the items, the haul is loaded back into the truck and delivered to area nonprofits, including the Salvation Army and the Augusta Regional Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“This project is a great opportunity for members to still feel like they’re able to serve the community in a different way than we’ve ever done before,” Buchanan says. “That’s just been awesome, that we’re able to do that.”

The club plans to continue the partnership with Martin’s post-pandemic, even after kids return to the ballfield. In fact, members want to expand their impact by pairing with another Martin’s location in a nearby town.

“We’re hopeful that for the next baseball season, we can inventory stuff for Martin’s on Wednesday mornings and sell hot dogs to our kids and our baseball program family members every evening.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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