Volunteers are serving up hundreds of meals through an old bank’s drive-through window

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Seven days a week, cars line up around the corner to collect food donations, no questions asked.

LEESBURG, Va. (WDVM) — About three years ago, attorney Peter Burnett purchased a former bank on East Market Street for some office space. That plan fell through and the building was vacant until April. 

Seven days a week, cars line up around the corner to collect food donations, no questions asked. At the front of the line, families with small children collect a baggie of diapers. Everyone receives a complimentary carnation to brighten their day. 

“We really didn’t think this would go on longer than four to six weeks,” Burnett said. “We started in the middle of April and we’re thinking, ‘Okay, first of June everything will be back to normal.’”

51,000 meals later, Burnett and his volunteers have handed out over 200,000 diapers and served hundreds of hungry families. “This site will give out about 170 or 80 meals typically in about 45 to 50 minutes,” he said. A hairdresser volunteers free haircuts on Sundays. 

“I’ve been here for almost 160 days. I think it’ll be 160 days tomorrow,” said volunteer Richard deButts. He and his brother have been volunteering since day one. Burnett and deButts engineered a roller system that keeps customers at an arm’s length. The driver rolls up to the former bank’s drive-through window and tells deButts how many people are in their family. A volunteer inside the building puts the items on a tray and deButts pushes the tray down the chute. 

“It works really great especially for social distancing,” deButts said. At the end of the line, the driver can pick up some fresh produce. 

The effort started out as a way to support restaurants. Now, many organizations are chipping in by sending over surplus fruits and vegetables or making cash donations. On Friday, Red Hot and Blue will donate hot barbecue sandwiches. They’ve also served up Chinese food. 

The effort sets Burnett back about $10,000 a week. His law firm, Burnett & Williams, is subsidizing most of the cost. Individual donors have helped, and the Leesburg Town Council awarded tens of thousands of CARES Act funding, too. 

“I see people since I’ve been doing this here, coming through the line that I know. And that just underscores the point that you never know if a friend or a neighbor is in need until you see them in a situation like that,” said volunteer Gennell Roberts. “And it really humbles you and makes you feel grateful for what you have.”

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