A disaster can bring out the best in a community. That is what happened in the small neighborhood of Shepherdstown during the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States.
Between Dec. 22, 2018, and Jan. 25, 2019 (35 days), many Shepherdstown residents found themselves out of work and struggling with financial hardships. This sparked a movement that confirms the widely held belief that West Virginians care about their neighbor: members of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center, Shepherdstown Community Club, Shepherdstown Lions Club, Trinity Episcopal Church, and countless other volunteers formed an alliance to address the issue.
“Within one week, I wasn’t a part of it then, but the organization that formed collected $6,000 from the community to help people who had not been paid for 6 weeks,” said Cari Simon, a retired teacher who is now the vice president and food pantry coordinator of Shepherdstown Shares.
Shepherdstown Shares (originally called Shepherdstown Cares) started as just a temporary food distribution to help unemployed Shepherdstown residents make it through the government closure, but 2020 brought a whole new complexed issue—COVID-19. This prompted the coalition of volunteers to make Shepherdstown Shares a permanent 501c3 nonprofit in April of 2020.
Shepherdstown Shares has addressed many issues to help stimulate the economy during COVID-19. Early projects the nonprofit created were the Work for Workers program, Angel’s Shoppers program, Share the Wealth program, and the Bench Project.
The Bench Project was sponsored by the community. It employed local artisans to construct and paint benches in downtown Shepherdstown. This also helped local shops and restaurants by providing customers with safer places to sit and eat outside during the height of COVID-19.
“The theme [of the benches] was ‘the spirit of Shepherdstown,’” said Cari Simon. Today, there are ten beautiful benches that can be spotted downtown, each one representing Shepherdstown in a creative way.
One of the ten benches in downtown Shepherdstown created by local artisans through the Bench Project.
While some of these projects have served their purpose and are no longer needed, the Shepherdstown Shares food pantry located at the chapel of the Trinity Episcopal Church of Shepherdstown continues to support many people.
“At the moment, we are feeding a little more than 160 people every month. Most come once a week, some come once, twice, or three times a month,” said Cari Simon.
Locals and Shepherd students facing food insecurity can seek help from Shepherdstown Shares through an easy registration process. Shepherdstown Shares may also provide students a great opportunity to do community service—especially for those in sororities or fraternities that require community service hours for membership. Student volunteers must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and must comply with wearing a mask properly while volunteering.
Cari Simon believes that students can learn a lot about their community though volunteerism. “They can probably learn that there’s a big need here in Shepherdstown, which may not be visible to them as they drive though Shepherdstown. They may learn that there are some wonderful people in this town who are so willing to help.”
The Shepherdstown Shares food pantry is open Mondays from 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m., Thursdays 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m., and Saturdays 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Donations of food, personal care products, and cleaning products can be placed in the vestibule of the chapel (which is always unlocked). Some of the most needed items include milk, proteins such as meats and canned meats, and loaves of bread.
Monetary donations can be accepted through the Paypal feature on the website and checks can be mailed to Shepherdstown Shares, Post Office Box 1780, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. For more information about volunteering with Shepherdstown Shares, visit their website, Facebook page, and contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.