BRATTLEBORO—It all started four years ago with cups of coffee.
In October, the Bright Spot Café and food pantry, part of the Community Bible Chapel, fed 231 people.
The all-volunteer café and food pantry provides a free hot meal, food, toiletries, and clothing to Vermont residents on Tuesdays from noon to 3 p.m. (closed the first Tuesday of the month).
On Nov. 15, the café is holding its first benefit supper and raffle. All funds go towards purchasing food and kitchen appliances, such as crock pots. Seatings are at 4 and 6 p.m. The menu includes macaroni and cheese with ham; tossed salad; chili; rolls; and apple crisp.
According to Virginia White, a volunteer of three years who took over running the program approximately a month ago from long-time volunteer and founder Roy Patno, this event is the ministry’s first fundraiser.
“God provides for the people who help themselves,” White said, echoing the congregation’s sentiments.
That said, more than 35 local businesses have donated items for the raffle, including a gift certificate to Panda North, games at Brattleboro Bowl, oil changes, a gift card to Walker Farm, a gift certificate to North End Butchers, and a gift certificate to Supreme Fitness.
White and Patno said the lunch and pantry provide more than the immediate lunch: It also allows needed social time.
White said the volunteers don’t discriminate on who gets what, although visitors do need to be Vermont residents. The pantry unfortunately turns away a lot of people from Hinsdale, N.H., White said.
“If you need it, you come in and get it,” she added.
She said the café and pantry visitors come from all walks of life: A few patrons are homeless, some are elderly, and families sometimes come in. Others are professionals from nearby businesses who have told her they’re having a hard week or month.
White says she enjoys the work: “I like people and giving back.”
A rotating crew of volunteers prepares the lunch and distributes food, said White.
Although the church doesn’t receive direct government funding, it does receives some surplus food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, White explained. The rest is purchased from the Vermont Foodbank (Vermont’s largest hunger-relief organization) and local businesses, depending on prices.
Patno said the church has provided donated clothing for years. Four years ago, the pastor asked Patno if he’d prepare coffee for the church’s clothing day.
Coffee turned into coffee and cookies. Patno added fruit to the mix, and later started bringing egg salad sandwiches. When Vermont Foodbank opened a branch in Brattleboro, Patno said he investigated starting a café and food pantry, and the Bright Spot Café was born.
Patno said he has volunteered for four years because he believes his faith calls him to serve others.