Family-Run Food Drive Impacts Community for 16th Year

Jan 10, 2024 | by Brad Rowland

Family-Run Food Drive Impacts Community for 16th Year

By: Brad Rowland

James "Bucky" Berry became acquainted with The Salvation Army at an early age, and for more than 45 years he has strived to give back to the community through a long-standing partnership with the organization in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Berry is the founder of the Brent Berry Family Food Drive, which is operating in its 16th year, and the drive's impact on Harrisonburg and Rockingham County is immeasurable.

"My family was poor growing up, and that is how I got to know The Salvation Army," Berry said. "The Salvation Army provided for our family: food on the table, clothes under the tree, presents for me when I was a small child."

Berry was committed to helping The Salvation Army long before launching the drive. He served as a volunteer bell-ringer across three decades, and while the drive is expressly a family endeavor for Berry, he intentionally partnered with The Salvation Army to enhance its impact.

"The Salvation Army's been around Harrisonburg for almost 100 years, and their slogan is ‘Doing the Most Good,'" said Berry. "I believe in giving back to the community. The Army helped me, and I believe in returning the favor to the citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County."

Bucky is the founder of the drive, and his son Brent, for whom the drive is named, works alongside him on a daily basis. This year's drive began in November and runs through January 5, 2024, when the donations collected across the region will be packaged and transported to The Salvation Army's Harrisonburg Corps for distribution in its food pantry.

The drive partners with Bridgewater Foods, a local grocery store, including a bus parked at the store for drop-offs between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. each day during the drive. In addition, two other full-time drop-off locations are established for 2023, and other community partners are invested in the program. That includes Harrisonburg City Public Schools, which also serve as drop-off locations, and Berry has long-standing alliances with local law enforcement and first responders. Notable among them is Broadway Chief of Police Doug Miller, who helps to coordinate additional locations each year.

"Our overall goal is to stop hunger in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County," Berry said. "There are people sleeping on the street, and we want to help them. If someone comes off the street and needs food, The Salvation Army is able to help them, and part of that comes from this drive. The Bible says if you help someone out, it comes back twenty-fold. I'm a firm believer that if you help your fellow citizen, the Lord sees what you do and what's in your heart."

"Catherine Booth said, ‘There is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need,'" said Lt. Douglas Ingold, corps officer in Harrisonburg. "The Brent Berry Food Drive makes it possible for us to follow in her footsteps, as Lt. Sharon (Ingold) and I are devoted to helping people in these trying times."

Berry and his family were recently honored by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who presented a Volunteerism and Community Service Award in November. This distinction recognized Berry's length of service and the combined donation of more than $2 million in food and time to feed those in the community through partnership with The Salvation Army. "The resilience, generosity, and commitment of these volunteers exemplifies the best of Virginia," said Governor Youngkin.

The goal for 2023 is to raise $80,000 worth of products after exceeding the stated $65,000 goal in 2022. Berry notes that he believes he "will see $100,000 in a year at some point," but the impact of the work stretches well beyond the financial numbers. The Salvation Army's food pantry in Harrisonburg is sustained for approximately six months each year simply from the food collected by the drive, and the public awareness of Berry's work undeniably aids in the Army's overarching mission to meet human need in His name without discrimination.

"When we arrived in Harrisonburg… we learned this city is known as the ‘friendly city,' and it really is true," said Lt. Ingold. "The people here are amazingly friendly. Yet, they are still facing the same economic difficulties as everybody else. So, we are very grateful for all donations, including those that arrive through this amazing food drive. I am also aware that, sometimes, the food we give out is the only food a family has to feed their family. The impact is immeasurable."

"I've met a lot of people that can talk the talk but can't walk the walk. I can do both," said Berry. "When I set my mind to something, I carry the mission out. In April, I had a major heart issue, and I'm lucky to be even doing the drive this year. The bottom line is that I will be doing the drive until I meet the Lord. As long as The Salvation Army is here, we're going to support them and support the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County community."

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