Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry in Fort Wayne has experienced a year of change, including new leadership and adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic. Greg Witte stepped in as director in January following the retirement of former director Joseph Miller. He continues the good work of foundress Virginia Schrantz.
For Witte, Miss Virginia’s provided a way for him to assist his community.
“I wanted to give back what had been given to me,” Witte said. “I always wanted to volunteer.”
He brings to the position more than 40 years of experience in the meat industry, as well as management skills. He said he discovered the open director position while looking through his Sunday bulletin and decided to reach out.
Under Witte’s leadership this year, the food pantry, located near St. Mary, Mother of God Church, has continued to assist those in need during the pandemic. Masks, social distancing, plexiglass partitions and temperature checks are the new norm at Miss Virginia’s.
Miss Virginia’s provides families with food supplies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. During the initial pandemic-related shutdown, operations moved outside, with people driving through to receive food.
A dedicated team of volunteers serves around 700 people a week, down from the pre-COVID number of more than 900.
“If I could say one thing that makes this thing go for me, it’s the group of people downstairs, those volunteers,” Witte said. “I feel really blessed.”
Former director Miller, who served from 2015 to 2019, also said he had felt called to help others. A retired teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools, he appreciated what he had been given.
“I knew somehow I wanted to give back to the community,” Miller said. He received a community service award from the American Legion in 2018 and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation for that service.
“There’s so much satisfaction in helping people that are in need.” Miller said. “We share the bounty of the county.”
Another change at the food pantry is the upcoming retirement of Leon Youngpeter, president of the Inner City Hope Corporation board. Planning to step down at the end of 2020, he has spent his time helping those in need. He started the St. Mary Christmas Food Box program in 1985, and it was through that program that he met Schrantz.
Schrantz was a Fort Wayne resident who opened her home to those in need in her neighborhood. A retired nurse, she provided care and support to everyone she met, and gave them supplies such as food and clothing. People began to refer to her home as “Miss Virginia’s.” Many Fort Wayne schools began donating items for Schrantz to give away.
News of her good work spread. She had a visit from Mother Teresa, who came to her home in 1982. In 1992, she had the honor of traveling to Washington, D.C., to receive the International Service to Mankind Award. Schrantz continued helping those in her neighborhood for 40 years.
Youngpeter had the opportunity to meet and talk with Schrantz at her home. He brought her leftover food from the food box program to give to the people she served.
“I think truly she was a saint,” said Youngpeter. “I think she was cut from the same mold as Mother Teresa. She was such a human, kind, loving person. All she did was give to other people. If the world had people like her, it would just be a whole entirely different world.”
In 1995, Schrantz asked Father Tom O’Connor, former pastor at St. Mary, Mother of God, if there was anything he could do to serve those coming to her home once she passed away. Father O’Connor worked with a lawyer to create the Inner City Hope Corporation, turning Miss Virginia’s work into a nonprofit organization.
Following her death in 1998, Miss Virginia’s home became Miss Virginia’s Mission House, serving around 210 families per week.
In 2014, after noticing the lack of food given to those visiting, Youngpeter saw the need for a better food system. He worked to implement the Balanced and Nutritional Food Program, which provides a wider variety and volume of foods for a better and more wholesome diet. “Our goal is to always provide healthy, nutritional food,” Youngpeter said.
Under Miller’s leadership in 2015, Miss Virginia’s Mission House changed its name to Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry to clarify the purpose of the house. Previously, the mission house had provided additional items such as clothing or other supplies, but they decided to focus specifically on food, so as not to duplicate other active ministries in the area that already provided those items.
Located at 1312 S. Hanna St., Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry operates out of Miss Virginia’s home and is the third-largest food pantry in Indiana. It runs entirely on donations from generous businesses, food banks and individuals. Community Harvest Food Bank and Tim Didier Meats provide Miss Virginia’s with food, as do many other donors. The Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne has assisted Miss Virginia’s with funding, along with other businesses and individuals.
To learn more about Miss Virginia’s Food Pantry and how to help, visit www.missvirginiafoodpantry.com.
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