By Rebecca Armstrong|
Last month, the line for Page One's food pantry in Luray went through the store, out the door and down Main Street.
Even with an increase in donations prompted by the holidays, the organization struggled to meet the growing need in Page County, which, according to Page One manager Lois Shaffer, has reached an all-time high.
“We're just hoping that we can keep the basics on the shelves right now,” said Shaffer, who's been at Page One for 20 years. “I think this is the worst year we've ever had.”
In December, 1,028 people were given food through Page One's USDA and Pantry Food Distribution program — about triple what the organization normally serves on a monthly basis. In 2010, more than 8,000 Page County residents received nearly 200,000 food items from Page One's Luray and Shenandoah locations.
Those numbers appear to be on the rise, based on the first several weeks of the new year. Shaffer noted that by Tuesday of each week, the main pantry room is almost bare.
To help replenish shelves and meet the growing need, Page One is holding a food drive through Feb. 7. Most needed items include cereal, soup, peanut butter, juice and canned meat, like tuna and Spam. Items may be dropped off at Luray's Page One between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, and between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturdays.
Last year, Page One spent close to $21,000 from its annual budget in food purchases — about double what they have in past years.
“We've experienced a lot of cutbacks in our budget, just like everyone else,” said Shaffer. “But we're still spending more in other areas.
“The need doesn't shrink just because the budget does.”
Food isn't the only need in Page County. Nearly 1,000 people received financial assistance through Page One's Family Assistance program in 2010. The assistance program experienced such an overflow of applicants that it had to lower the limit paid per family in order to help more people.
To make a donation, call or visit Page One of Luray or Shenandoah.
Shaffer noted that financial contributions can often supply the pantry with more food because Page One is able to purchase it at a discount.
“It's almost going out as fast as it's coming in,” she said. “I think people forget that others are hungry year-round — not just at the holidays.”
For many unemployed or underemployed people looking to find a new job, or a better one, it is increasingly important in a high-tech world to have solid computer skills.
But many older workers who didn’t grow up with computers find themselves at a disadvantage, while younger ones without a lot of work experience find they need to acquire newer skills to compete.
That’s where Bruce Arnold and Gary Patterson come in.
Arnold and Patterson are volunteer instructors at the Shenandoah Computer Center, sponsored by the Town of Shenandoah. The center is located in the same building as the town’s police department and supervised by Joyce Fluharty, administrative assistant to the police chief.
Established in 2005 with a Rural Utilities Service grant from the state department of agriculture, the center has 25 computer workstations and provides workforce training as part of its mission.
Arnold, who is retired from a career as a computer programmer and technician for both the private sector and the U.S. Navy, teaches the introductory classes.
“The majority of my class members are seniors, many of whom don’t know how to turn a computer on or use a mouse, so it’s pretty basic,” he said.
Arnold got involved with the center after supervising a program through Page County Triad in which high school students helped seniors learn computer skills. His success with that program brought an invitation to help set up the new computer center and teach classes after it opened in 2005.
“It started with a couple of courses, and then people asked for more,” Arnold said.
He began with Introduction to Computers, then added introductory courses on word processing and spreadsheets.
“I find it very rewarding,” Arnold said. “ A lot of my students tell me they feel empowered after taking one of the basic courses.”
Not all of Arnold’s students are seniors learning computers for the first time, however. Some are younger people, age 25-30 and up, who are taking courses for job training in the hope of landing a new job in a new field.
Those students are also likely to move on to the more advanced courses taught by Gary Patterson.
Patterson, a computer consultant from Charlottesville who moved to Shenandoah two years ago, helps businesses develop their own websites through his own business, KGP Associates, located next door to the Shenandoah Town Hall.
“I’ve always been a teacher, taught classes in college, so I volunteered to teach classes on everything from how to build a computer and computer programming,” he said.
In fact, he now teaches such advanced courses as Windows Tips and Tricks, Websites for Dummies, Graphic Design and Introduction to Programming at the center.
Last spring, with the encouragement of some of his students, Patterson organized an all-day Business Technology Seminar at the Shenandoah Community Center for business owners to give them a hands-on feel for ways that computer technology can help promote their businesses.
“We gave them information about Facebook, websites, office applications like Windows, QuickBooks, etc., with areas set up for presentations,” Patterson said.
That session was so successful that a second seminar was held this past November at the computer center, where participants had their own computer stations and could get more direct hands-on instruction.
Not all business owners have the time to come to classes, which are generally five week courses, but they can devote a Saturday to the business seminars, Patterson said.
“With the classes, they learn to set up a website themselves, but with the seminars we it up for them,” he explained. “They come in, give us their company name, a slogan and a color scheme if they don’t already have a logo, and if they haven’t come up with a slogan, I’ll come up with one for them in five minutes.”
The next step is to go to a workstation to set up the logo with the business owner’s input. They then take that information on a USB drive to another work station to set up a Facebook page, and then to another work station to set up a website using a web design program called Weebly.
The first seminar drew six people, the second one drew three, but Patterson said as long as one business person shows up, he will work with them to help set up a website to promote their business.
The seminars are open to any business in Page County, not just for Shenandoah businesses.
The feedback has been positive enough from participants that the Shenandoah Town Council voted at its meeting last week to authorize Patterson to conduct more Business Technology Seminars every couple of months this year. The council also pledged to support the seminars by providing snacks and as much publicity as possible.
The next Business Technology Seminar is scheduled for March 19, and is free of charge.
Regular classes at the computer center began on Jan. 18 and run continuously throughout the year. A $10 fee is generally charged for classes.
For more information about the computer center and a schedule of classes, go to the Town of Shenandoah’s website, www.townofshenandoah.com, and click on Computer Center. Or call the computer center at 652-8773.