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A Christmas miracle for Volunteer Farms

Cash-strapped charity receives boon from donors

By Sally Voth

For Volunteer Farms founder Bob Blair, Christmas miracles are a very real thing.

Less than a week after Blair worried that the eight-year-old Woodstock farm -- and its sister operation in Culpeper -- were in serious danger of shutting down, nearly $40,000 has been donated in an effort to save the operation.

"This feels like a Christmas miracle to me. It's still going [on], but it feels like it's a miracle, and we're going to save the farm one way or another," Blair said.

All of the fruit and vegetables grown on the two farms -- and this year's harvests were above 165,000 -- are donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which fills food pantries across one-third of the commonwealth.

Blair said last week it takes more than $100,000 each year to run the farms, with most of that money going to postage, fuel, seeds and to pay a farm manager. The farm's last manager was laid off earlier this fall due to financial straits.

"The revenue has been on a steadily downward trend for the last four years with the recession," Blair said in a Nov. 28 interview. "The bottom line is people are afraid -- duly so -- of this recession. They don't know what's going to happen tomorrow in their situation. So, love thy neighbor has kind of been put on the back burner. I think there's a lot of factors that come into play, but I think it's mainly the recession."

Blair worried that if $50,000 wasn't raised by the end of the month, the farms might have to shut down. And, that would be bad news for the roughly 150,000 they help feed each month.

However, on Wednesday, a much relieved and joyful Blair had good news.

"It's really working," he said of the appeal for help. "We've taken in on average since the 29th of November [when the Daily article ran] about $2,800 a day, which is just amazing. We stand at $39,725, which includes a $25,000 check that's in the mail."

That donor is from Charlottesville, and wishes to remain anonymous.

Blair said the majority of the past week's donations have come from people who've never given money to the Volunteer Farms before.

"Most of these donations came in by PayPal, off our online website," he said. "Of the total of 50 donations, 32 of them are from new donors."

That includes the signer of the $25,000 check.

"It's still a good ways to go until our [annual board] meeting on Jan. 12, but if we keep this momentum going, we should be able to operate next year," Blair said.

Many of the donations are in the hundreds of dollars each, he said, including a $1,000 check that came from Florida from "a new donor, and how in the world she heard about us, I don't know."

Since the article appeared, Blair has been stopped on the street and in church by people inquiring about the fund-raising appeal.

"So, there's interest, obviously, and that's gratifying," he said. "We feel very blessed, and hopefully, they continue supporting us. We're going to need a lot of support to make it work all year long."

Area businesses also have stepped up with offers of help, Blair said. Anthony's Pizza in Strasburg is having a fundraiser from 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, he said, and the Woodstock Arby's has plans to help, as does the Country Boys Country Club. A Winchester church has pledged to take up a collection for the farms on Christmas Eve, too.

"Just a lot of things working for us," Blair summed up.

Those wishing to donate to the Volunteer Farms can visit www.worldfoundationforchildren.com, call 459-3478, or send checks to 277 Crider Lane, Woodstock, Va. 22664.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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