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Annual Potato Project hosted by Shepherdstown Rotary

By Staff | May 3, 2019

Lily Kessler and Christopher Hicks, Rotaract students at Shepherd University, help unload 50-pound bags of potatoes at the potato drop Saturday morning. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Members of the Shepherdstown Rotary, Shepherd University Rotaract and other community volunteers gathered Saturday, April 27 in the early morning hours as 40,000 pounds of potatoes were delivered via tractor-trailer in front of Town Hall.

The potatoes, delivered in 50-pound bags, were unloaded and placed in designated areas to be retrieved by various organizations in the Eastern Panhandle for distribution to individuals who can benefit from their receipt.

The event, happening since 2007, is sponsored by the Rotary in conjunction with The Society of St. Andrew, a faith-based hunger relief organization.

The Society of St. Andrew salvages tractor-trailer loads of potatoes and other produce that are rejected by commercial markets or potato chip factories due to slight imperfections in size, shape, sugar content or surface blemishes. Through the Potato and Produce Project, the Society of St. Andrew is able to redirect these loads of fresh, nutritious produce to food banks, soup kitchens, Native American reservations, food pantries, low-income housing areas, local churches and other hunger agencies for redistribution.

Rotary member and former president David Gross was on hand Saturday, as he has been since the inception of the project.

“In my wildest dreams, I did not imagine the project would be going on years later,” Gross said of the event, which he helped begin in 2007. “Since then, we’ve had more than 400,000 pounds of produce delivered.”

This year, the Potato Project was headed up by Hannah Brumbaugh, graduate assistant for Student Community Service and Service Learning. She explained that the drop on Saturday consisted of 40,000 pounds, potatoes that she thought would be loose and need to be bagged. She was pleasantly surprised when the spuds were already in bags.

“We had scheduled almost 100 volunteers to help unload and bag,” Brumaugh said. “It’s much easier when they are already bagged.”

Her enthusiasm was echoed by Rotaract students from Shepherd University.

“It’s so much easier,” laughed Lily Kessler, who had helped in the past with a drop.

First time helper Christopher Hicks shared that he was having fun while Kessler added that it was a great community project.

“And we do it just because it’s fun,” laughed Kessler.

Brumbaugh, although the lead in this year’s project, said that she could not take all the credit.

“It is not just a one-man show,” Brumbaugh said. “There is a lot of support.”

Brumbaugh gave credit to not only the Rotaract students from Shepherd, but several fraternities and sororities as well who sent volunteers. Also helping were Interact students from Jefferson High School and additional community members who happened to hear about the need.

One of those volunteers was Lane Fortney, whose mother, Kim, explained that her son, who has autism, saw the event on Facebook and told her, “We have to help.” And help they did, as they Lane joined in the assembly line taking bags of potatoes out of the truck.

The Shepherdstown Rotary Club has, since the annual event began, paid for the cost of transporting the food to Shepherdstown (typically about $1,000 per year) and coordinates the distribution.

The potatoes delivered this year were then distributed to eight different organizations including the Mountaineer Food Bank that took the lion’s share of the potatoes to share with food banks throughout the state. Also receiving allocations were the Salvation Army, the Boys & Girls Club, Berkeley Senior Services, Jefferson County Council on Aging, Washington County Community Action Council and Morgan County Starting Points.