Photo by Andrew Richards
Bridgett Dennis gathers groceries at Operation Blessing. Dennis and her mother, Zula, are one of many families the Wood River food bank helps with groceries and clothing.
WOOD RIVER - Bridgett Dennis had badly burned her leg.
"She came in here and said she needed a Band-Aid for her leg," said Virginia Kirkpatrick, the founder of Operation Blessing in Wood River. "She was burning stuff in the yard, and her pants caught fire and she got burnt real bad."
That incident happened 20 years ago and was Dennis' first encounter with Kirkpatrick, who gave her medicine and bandages to help heal her wounds.
Since then, Dennis comes every so often to Operation Blessing - a food pantry and clothing shelter at 18 East Lorena Ave. - to get food items and clothes for her mother, Zula, 92. Both reside together in Wood River.
Dennis said Kirkpatrick and Operation Blessing volunteers have had a big impact on her life over the years.
"These people have helped so many people out here in the community in so many different ways," Dennis said, adding the staff will sit and listen when patrons need to talk.
"They'll talk to you any time you need help," she said. "You got a problem, you can come in here and sit down. Virginia will sit here and talk it out with you."
Kirkpatrick started Operation Blessing in August 1982 after she ran into a few people while she and her husband, Ned, were out shopping. Many had lost their jobs and were looking for ways to support their families.
She said her husband gave her $500 to start a food pantry and clothing shelter.
"I was bored," she said with a smile, adding her three children had also just moved out of the house.
Since then, United Way, the St. Louis area food bank, along with churches, businesses, foundations and service clubs, have pitched in to help with donating food to the operation's pantry.
And a round of applause, Kirkpatrick said, should also go to Operation Blessing's 79 local volunteers who often help.
"I'm amazed sometimes that we're doing all of what we're doing at Operation Blessing only with volunteers,” said Frank Akers, the organization's president and executive officer.
Akers said nearly 900 new people visited the food pantry and clothing shelter in 2013 with adults ages 35 to 54 being the largest group served.
"It's a good feeling to help people and see the difference you've made in their lives,” Kirkpatrick said.
For information or to make a donation, call 618-251-5683.