Feeding the Soul

Deana Burke founded a food pantry after experiencing the hardships faced by low-income families

By Isaac Broyles and Ben Hancock | 12/14/09

GLENVILLE, W. Va. – It is a bittersweet moment for Deana Burke as she surveys the controlled chaos of volunteers unloading supplies from a U-Haul truck. A multitude of people wait in line under the setting sun to receive a much-needed box of provisions from her pantry, Visions Vessels & Victory.

It pains her that so many low-income families need her food to survive. But the moment is sweet too, because she knows that her program offers help to over 200 families receiving relief today.

Burke is the founder and executive director of Visions Vessels & Victory, a nonprofit food pantry operating out of Appcon Lumber Co. that runs entirely off of donations from the public. Thanks to the efforts of Burke and around 40 volunteers, boxes of food are handed out to hundreds of needy families every month. VVV also delivers boxes of food to the elderly and other people who don’t have the means to pick it up on their own.

About 15 years ago, Burke was in the same position as the people she now helps. A divorce in the early 1990’s left her a single mother raising two children on a tiny budget, and she suddenly found herself struggling to keep her family fed and clothed.

“You could say that I had the rug pulled out from under my feet,” Deana said about that tough time in her life. She found a local food pantry that provided some support for her family, but money was still very tight and she struggled to get by every day. It was at this food pantry that Burke came to see how much help many hard-working members of the community needed.

The lowest point for Burke came when her daughter arrived home hungry from school with a friend, and she didn’t even have enough food for a snack for the two of them. “It was a horrible feeling to know that I couldn’t even make a sandwich for them to eat.”

“I could always bum from my parents,” said Burke about her decision to remain as independent as possible, “but there comes a time when you get tired of the all the bumming.” Burke turned down the offer from her parents to move back under their roof and decided go back to Glenville State College to obtain a degree in education.

Burke said that she broke down and begged God to give her some sign as to what she could do to help her family, and families like hers. Eventually he gave her the idea for Visions Vessels & Victory. Burke immediately started VVV, but the program struggled in the beginning. She quickly decided that VVV could not use the government’s help, because a government-funded organization cannot make any mention of God or Jesus Christ. “You have to touch people at their point of need,” said Burke about VVV’s mission, “and we bring Christ to them at their point of need.”

Support from local churches and members of the community gave VVV the strength it needed to start operations. Thanks to these donations and volunteers, Burke can remain independent of the government, allowing her to add a new prayer letter each month to the box of food that pantry recipients receive.

After a few years of uncertainty, VVV started to pick up, fueled by donations from members of the community and local churches. They went from helping around 30 homes when they started in 2000, to helping more than 300 a few years later. The program got so big that they had to move out of the small convenience store they were using as a base of operations and into a much bigger location.

Not only did they have to find a bigger location, they had to expand their operations as people began donating clothes and building materials like windows and doors. Burke and her program were finally getting to help the people who God and her conscience told her needed the most.

By 2003, Burke had begun working as an accountant for her father Richard Burke at Appcon Lumber. At Appcon, there was some storage space not being used, so he gladly let her move the program into his building, where it still operates today. Richard Burke also donated the refrigerators and freezers that store some of the food VVV gives out, and the buildings that VVV use to store building supplies that can also be obtained by needy families.

Today, VVV is so doing so well that they are expanding operations to Berkeley and Nicholas Counties and working on a pantry opening in Palestine. VVV also recently received a license to operate in Ohio, so in the near future they will have pantries there as well.

Rachel Clark of Gilmer County was present at VVV’s November distribution to receive a box of food for an elderly family member. Just a month ago however, Clark had returned home with her small children to find that her refrigerator had broken, spoiling all of the contents inside. This left her with very little food and no money to replace all that she had lost. Distraught, she went to VVV, and they gave her some supplies to live on and a little bit of money to help her get her refrigerator fixed.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Clark said about the support she immediately received when her family was so desperately in need.

Though the VVV organization has grown enormously over the years and extended aid to many, Burke remains humble about her contributions and the program, “The vision was God’s, we are the vessels, but the victory is all his.”

Editor’s Note: The need for help is greater than ever right now, for both VVV and the people they help. For more information about donations or to sign up for the program call VVV at 304-462-5556; send a letter to 1263 WV HWY 5 E, Glenville, WV 26351; or email visionsvesselsvictory@yahoo.com .

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