Walthall General, Community on Receiving End of Restaurant’s Generosity
Walthall General Administrator Nacole Dillon presented non-perishable food items to Fiesta and Barry Martin, owners of Velma Jean’s Restaurant. The restaurant is home to a Little Free Food Pantry which hospital employees donated to during December.
TYLERTOWN, Miss. (January 6, 2021) In a small community, you find that solidarity holds true in many different situations. Serving more than 5,500 free meals to essential workers, seniors, and other families since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Velma Jean’s Chicken and Waffles Restaurant has truly shown what it is like to be your neighbors’ keeper!
The employees of Walthall General Hospital have been on the receiving end of the kindness of the staff at Velma Jean’s weekend after weekend since March 21, 2020, as have others throughout the community. The homemade meals, which run the gamut from grilled cheese and soup to red beans and rice, barbeque chicken, and spaghetti with garlic toast, are delivered free of charge to those staff members working weekends.
“Their work and efforts have lightened the load of my staff each week as they continue to feed us, and it is such a morale booster,” said Nacole Dillon, WGH administrator. “I know others in our little town are just as appreciative!”
The meals began when Fiesta Martin, a former educator, and her husband, Barry, realized Walthall County children would be out of school for spring break and would miss their most reliable meal of the day – their school lunch. The Martins decided to do a Weekend Community Feeding Initiative, which included hospital and law enforcement personnel, as well as some seniors in the community. Nine months later, the program is still going strong. On the weekends they average about 50 meals. They’ve had three such feedings with another scheduled in the near future with hospital employees committed to help.
The Martin’s work began as a way to help their community in such a difficult time. Through the help of family, friends and restaurant employees they’ve continued to give back. “We never thought about what this was going to do for us,” Martin said. “We thought along the lines of ‘this is a small community, what can we do’?”
The answer presented itself in another way. In front of the Main Street restaurant is a Little Free Food Pantry. Kagler Solutions Incorporated (KSI), the Martin’s not-for-profit, secured a grant from No Child Goes Hungry to build and initially supply the pantry. The community pantry provides a means for those in need to have access to food 24 hours a day. A sign on the pantry says, ‘Give What You Can, Take What You Need.’
“This is our community and we needed to step up and do something,” said Martin. “I’m not in every home. I don’t know what people have or don’t have. We were blessed to have that initial vehicle by calling up some friends who responded. With that kind of access, we needed to use it. “To whom much is given, much is required has always been my motto.”
Everything prepared by the staff honors the memory of Velma Jean Ash, Martin’s mother who people described as an impeccable cook who provided both humor and encouragement.
Dillon said they are so blessed to have such an amazing outpouring of kindness for the Walthall General staff and the community that hospital employees decided to give back by initiating a food drive for the Little Free Food Pantry.
“Prior to the Christmas holiday, hospital administration delivered 10 turkeys that employees donated back to help meet the needs of the community, along with lots of boxes of nonperishable foods,” said Dillon. Administrative Assistant, Julie McDonald, and Dillon delivered the food to Velma Jeans on behalf of WGH employees.
“As 2020 comes to an end, our staff wanted to do something positive, and pay it forward,” Dillon said. “Our staff felt led to collect food for their pantry. We are so thankful to be able to help them continue to help others.”
Martin said she and her husband were overwhelmed with the staff’s generosity.
“The hospital has been phenomenal,” she said. “My husband I were rather emotional over their delivery.”
Earlier in the year, Martin, who was out of town at the time, had a small medical problem that required a trip to the ER. She chose to be carried back to Walthall General. “My doctor (who has practiced in Atlanta for 30 years) was so impressed at the manner in which they cared for me,” Martin said. “The people there, the level of care, professionalism, and how efficiently and knowledgeable they were with handling my situation, it was very successful. I give a lot of kudos to them. A lot of times people don’t appreciate folks right there in their backyard.”
The restaurant and Little Free Food Pantry are located at 605 Beulah Avenue on the corner with Sandifer Street in Tylertown.