Adventures in Rockbridge County

As you may or may not know, Rockbridge County is magical. That’s right, magical. You might be wondering how I can make such an “outlandish” statement. Well, it all started because of a project I am working on as an intern at Campus Kitchen this summer. I am working in cooperation with RARA (Rockbridge Area Relief Association) to map out needy areas of the community and determine accessibility of healthy foods. This project will help identify areas of the county that require more attention from our local pantries.

It started by identifying the areas on a map. That was followed by adding to the map a list of fast food, grocery, and convenience stores. I then developed a survey, which I took to fifteen of the stores in Lexington, Glasgow, Goshen, Natural Bridge, Raphine, and Vesuvius (pretty much anywhere that had people breathing in the vicinity). The survey simply required me to write down what fresh vegetables and fruits, low-fat grains, meats, and dairy products that the store carried along with their prices. I also included a few questions like whether or not the store accepts EBT or has any locally grown food. It was in taking this journey that I found that Rockbridge County is hiding many secrets from you. I have heard students at Washington and Lee complain more than one time about what little Rockbridge County has to offer. I would say it is probably because they were not looking hard enough.

First of all, I stumbled upon a magical little waterfall called Cedar Falls while driving through Vesuvius. Vesuvius is actually a hidden town so you may not know a lot about it. I drove through windy streets, up mountains, and finally into a little valley surrounded by hills. The houses were few but not too far between and I can only assume people in them must lead the ultimate quiet nature loving lives to live among that beautiful lush greenery. I think it is where the Keebler elves have their tree, in fact. I am almost certain. But anyways, back to Cedar Falls. There was a little sign sticking out on the road that alerted me to its presence so of course I had to investigate. As I was walking up to it, I realized I was most likely on private property and it almost seemed like a backyard. Regardless, I continued on to find a little waterfall about fourteen feet tall that led into a swimming hole and a stream that trickled down over rocks to form a beautiful little picture.

That first adventure became one of many. From visiting Layne’s Grocery in Natural Bridge and buying their magically delicious homemade jam to sitting under a large dinosaur eating a locally grown peach in Glasgow (what other options are there when your car is broken down?), I can say with complete confidence Rockbridge county is certainly a magical place. My story doesn’t simply end there because I have left out an important part of what makes it such a wonderful place: the people.

My experiences culminated in having the pleasure of being able to observe the wonderful work that RARA does and interact with the people living in many of the places I had visited. I was able to observe the intake process at this food pantry and the method through which it serves the clients. I was fortunate to meet those clients and see some of the specifics of their incomes and benefits. Many of them are in drastic need. It motivated me to continue with my project, knowing I could help these people who often came to the pantry as a last resort. These are not the type of people that some groups would have you believe. They are not lazy, opportunistic, or unworthy of the same opportunities that wealthier people enjoy. I know because I have seen them, but the sad thing is that poverty has silenced many of them. You won’t hear their stories because society says they should be ashamed to tell them and you won’t see their faces unless you are an active member of the community. Be the voice for those who have been silenced living just a stone’s throw away from your neighborhood. Most importantly, get involved and learn about just how magical Rockbridge County can be.

Summer Intern!

This summer I will be one of the campus kitchens interns! You might being wondering who I am. My name is Emily Warner and I am a rising junior at Washington and Lee. I am a Bonner and Campus Kitchens along with The Blue Ridge Autism Center in Buena Vista are my main service placements. I served as a shift leader over this past year and decided to stay and continue to work in this organization that I love! It definitely beats sitting at a desk all summer, which I began to appreciate at my first full day on the job lifting boxes of cans donated by the W&L library.

I will serve on all of the shifts involving adults because my interest lies in the adult programming Campus Kitchens offers. This means working with mostly mentally disabled clients. I began to really enjoy doing this first semester of my sophomore year when I started going to the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center. At first, I was timid and nervous about working with this population. I did not know how to interact with them and had no experience working with this type of group. I followed the lead of the other volunteers as they grabbed a plate of food and sat down to eat with the people at the center after serving them. I began to ask them questions and have conversations with them about our lives. I soon became very comfortable and immediately began to enjoy seeing their faces every week. I learned to love and appreciate their unique quirks and likes and dislikes. It became a place for me to go and forget about all of the school work or responsibility I had back on campus. It was so easy to do because it felt like a totally different world. I left all of my worries at the door and came to eat lunch with friends every Tuesday and Thursday. Now, I get to do this all summer!

Along with leading the normal shifts, I will also be working on a project with local food pantry. I will be researching what areas surrounding Lexington are not being serviced properly by food pantries. We are doing this in an effort to expand services to those who are not accessing them now because of transportation issues and distance of the people from the nearest food pantry.  I am really excited about this project because it will give me an opportunity to get to know  the area in ways that I never would have if I mostly stayed on campus during my time at W&L, and I will be part of the effort to get help to those areas that need it most!

I will also have the opportunity to learn a little bit of how Campus Kitchens is run from the business side of things by working with Jenny in her office. I am particularly interested in grant writing as I know it is a skill I will need for a career in nonprofit management, which is what I am thinking of doing in the future.

That is about it for now. Stay tuned for more updates on what we are doing this summer!