Students stock the shelves of the Community Cupboard. Courtesy of W&L.

Here’s a round-up of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Cassandra Sobieski ’22 helps with construction of a community cupboard as part of a community-based learning project. Courtesy of W&L.

W&L helps set up miniature food pantries in Rockbridge County

Community Cupboards, a miniature food pantries pilot program that offers Rockbridge County residents a rotating menu of nonperishable groceries, is the latest collaboration between Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Cooperative Extension to bring a new resource to the local community.

The miniature food pantry project began in a brainstorming session between Sarah Blythe, associate professor of biology, and Rebecca Wilder, Virginia Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences SNAP-Ed agent. Students in Blythe’s course, Food for Thought: Topics in Nutrition and Metabolism, identified five locations in the county to place miniature food pantries. The pantries, which were erected in early November, contain food, recipes and nutrition information. Students in Howard Pickett’s course, Fieldwork in Poverty and Human Capability, stocked the pantries and collected usage data throughout winter term.

The project was inspired by a grassroots movement called Little Free Pantry, as well as Blythe’s commitment to expanding her coursework beyond nutrition to include societal and socioeconomic factors that might influence one’s relationship with food. In fall 2020, she had teamed up with Rebecca Wilder, family and consumer sciences SNAP-Ed agent at Rockbridge County’s office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, to offer local elementary school students take-home cooking kits and science experiments designed to facilitate nutrition education during a year where in-person engagement with area schools was not possible. As Blythe began to plan her course syllabus for fall term 2021, she was excited about working together again with Wilder. They realized that there were opportunities to bring healthy food options to the Rockbridge community in a new way that could supplement the work of local organizations dedicated to addressing food issues. Blythe and Wilder co-developed the little pantries program and together planned ways to incorporate it into Blythe’s course.

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Forest Service recognizes volunteer from Mouth of Wilson

The USDA Forest Service recently announced recipients of the national Volunteers & Service awards. Janida Bonham of Mouth of Wilson has been awarded the 2021 national Volunteers & Service award in the Leadership category for her commitment to excellence, visionary leadership and innovative approach to volunteer engagement on the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

As a long-term volunteer, Bonham mentors and trains new volunteers, manages essential administrative operations, and organizes the volunteer campground host program. In 2021, Bonham contributed over a thousand volunteer hours, the equivalent of almost 27 work weeks.

The Forest Service said Bonham’s “Enthusiasm and dedication played a key role through staff transitions and the COVID-19 pandemic. When the Hurricane Campground was on the verge of being closed in 2021, she spent three months providing customer service by day, answering phone calls from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and serving as a campground host by night.”

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Griffith announces 9th District winners of Congressional Art Competition

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, announced that Maria Wilson of Virginia High School won the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District. Her artwork is entitled “Highlands Sunset.”

Natalie Vega of Carroll County High School earned second place with “Laurels of the Blue Ridge,” and Emma Dingus of Twin Springs High School earned third with “Appalachian Evening.”

Wilson’s art will hang in the U.S. Capitol. The other entires will hang in Griffith’s district offices in Abingdon and Christiansburg.

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Paul Platt portrays Pa Hurley, pictured with a group of children waiting to learn their fate during the Great Depression, in a scene from the original play “Promise Made. Promise Kept — The true story of Sam Hurley and the Founding of Mountain Mission School.” Courtesy of the school.

Play about Mountain Mission School to be performed Friday, Saturday

The Theatre Guild of Buchanan County’s Community Arts Mainstage at Vansant will host a play this weekend by local writer/director Paul Platt and a cast from Mountain Mission School, as they perform the original “Promise Made. Promise Kept — The true story of Sam Hurley and the Founding of Mountain Mission School.” 

The play will be presented May 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Mountain Mission School (1921-2021). The play was first presented at the MMS Alumni Homecoming on April 23 on the MMS campus.

Tickets for the May 6 and 7 public performances will be available at the door for $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Members of the cast and crew for the performance include prologue speakers Parker Hicks, Anna Mayer, Ellelta Feleke, Amani Adenew, Feker Fetene, Ezekiel Peters, David Mayer, Joselin Martinez, Sadie Mullins, Haimonot Mekonen, Donald Morgan, Consol Mbiya, Angel Torres and Autumn Mullins.

The role of Sam (Pa) Hurley through the years is played by David Mayer, who is Sam Hurley as a boy (ages 10-16); Donald Morgan, who plays the role of 19-year-old Sam; and Paul Platt as Pa Hurley.

Members of the cast also include Elizabeth Anderson, Jason Justice, Treyton Blackburn, Mark Hood, Josh Beery, Roger Belcher, Robert Sauer, Dee Barnett, Jason Justice, Rayburn Minton, Will Ratliff, Mark Hatfield, Roger Belcher, Ella Tolliver, Greg Bentley, Dawit Kasy, Emily Chaney, Ezekiel Peters, Amani Adenew, Olivia McClanahan, Alana Harrison, Anna Mayer and Reva Fields.

The Mountain Mission School Choir will also perform.

Assistant director is Jason Justice; stage manager, Elizabeth Anderson; costumers Ashley Mullins and Julie Mayer; slideshow, Russell Hertzog; property manager, Rachel Hood; musical director, Kayla Bowman; sound cues, Treyton Blackburn; light and sound control, Elie Bizimana, Roy Ross, Abenezer Kebede and Emanuel Chacha; stage hands, Estefanos Lemma and Elton Robero; and book reader, Dawit Kasy.

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Forest Service to conduct prescribed burn in Amherst County

The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled a prescribed burn in Amherst County today.

Location: The Cole Mountain prescribed burn area is located eight miles east of Buena Vista within the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area. 

Date and Time: Fire Specialists plan to begin igniting a 440-acre section of this prescribed burn area on Thursday, May 5, if weather conditions allow. 

Purpose: Prescribed fire has multiple environmental and social benefits. This prescribed burn will help reduce vegetation and restore open fields, maintaining breathtaking Appalachian Trail views and creating early successional wildlife habitat.

Road and Trail Closures: The Old Hotel Trail (Forest Service Trail #515) and portions of the Appalachian Trail from Cow Camp Gap to Hog Camp Gap will be temporarily closed for the duration of the burn, at least six hours and until the trail is safe for use again. Portions of Hog Camp Road (Forest Service Road #48) and North Fork of the Buffalo Road (FSR #51) may also be temporarily closed. For your safety, please follow posted signs and closures when they occur.

Additional Information: The controlled burn may have lingering smoke effects in the surrounding area. Depending on wind direction, residents and travelers in these areas may see or smell smoke.Expect reduced visibility, drive with caution and use fog lights if driving through smoke.Smoke is expected to lift high into the air during the daytime, but may settle into low lying areas in the evenings. The fire will continue to burn in the area until significant precipitation occurs. Rain is forecasted for Friday and Saturday. Firefighters will continue to monitor the burn for several days.

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