WOOD RIVER — Wood River’s Operation Blessing has touched thousands of lives in the more than 30 years it has been in operation.
So when it came time for the Wood River Rotary Club to select its newest recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow recognition, the first name that came to mind for the selection committee was Operation Blessing founder Virginia Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick, 88, became the first non-Rotary Club member to receive the prestigious award when the club presented her with a medallion and certificate at its Sept. 26 meeting.
“Virginia’s name came up because all of us knew Virginia, and she’s been in our community for so many years and has done so many wonderful things for the community,” Rotary Club member and Paul Harris Fellow Pat Devening said.
“She’s more than just a supporter for this community,” said former Wood River mayor David Ayres, a Paul Harris Fellow and former Operation Blessing board member for more than five years. “She’s almost an institution. Her desire to help people is overwhelming.”
Operation Blessing started in 1983 when Kirkpatrick used a $500 donation from her husband, Ned, to rent a storefront at 18 E. Lorena Ave. for the purpose of starting a nonprofit food pantry and clothing shelter. The organization has since helped more than 4,000 residents with three-day food supplies and other necessities.
Today, the organization has 69 volunteers, the most active of which remains Kirkpatrick. Wood River Mayor Frank Akers, another Paul Harris Fellow who also serves as Operation Blessing’s president, said Kirkpatrick still recruits and trains the staff made up entirely of volunteers.
“Virginia is still the driving force of Operation Blessing, working virtually full time for no pay,” Akers said.
Kirkpatrick said she appreciated the recognition for doing something she still enjoys, helping to make a difference among the community’s less-fortunate population.
“I feel so honored today, among friends, family and volunteers,” Kirkpatrick said. “This has been quite a long endeavor to do what the Lord has asked me to do, and it’s turned out very successful.”
Kirkpatrick is now one of 26 active Paul Harris Fellows in the Wood River chapter. Ayres said the club hopes to identify other deserving non-Rotarians in the coming years to follow in her legacy.
“I think it’s a great person to start with, and hopefully we will continue to find other people in the community that we can honor,” Ayres said.