15 years later, A Gift From Ben continues giving

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

The day starts at 6:30 a.m. for Everette "Thumper" Newman.

He wakes up, hops into a white delivery truck and makes his rounds, picking up pounds of food from local stores like Manhattan Bagel, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Fresh Market, Martin's or Trader Joe's.

On Mondays and Fridays, he sets up at 309 Waltz Farm Dr., distributing food to any and all who show up. The remaining days, he delivers to the Blayton Building, Burnt Ordinary, Highland Park, Burton Woods and other areas of need.

Seven days a week, 364 days a year, Newman gives. He gives his all because his son, Ben, no longer can.

On Dec. 26, 2001, Newman lost Ben, a teenager, in a car accident. Soon after, he turned to Sister Bernice Eltz, who encouraged Newman to volunteer with St. Bede Catholic Church's food delivery program.

"I was really amazed at the amount of food that they were picking up, and the amount of people they were helping," he said.

Newman and his then wife, Heather, decided to start a food bank in Ben's name, and A Gift from Ben was born. St. Bede later ended its delivery program, asking the Newmans to assume the route.

Fifteen years later, A Gift From Ben continues on, a nonprofit organization, an agency of Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. Newman estimates he distributes $2.5 million in food, or 800,000 pounds, a year.

"I'm very thankful I have a purpose in my life," said Newman, a strong believer in God.

One recent Monday, the line to Newman's food distribution center, a small room in the back of Living Proof Baptist Church's former location, extended far past the building's back door, as it often does.

Julie Brown waited in the cold.

Brown said she's visited A Gift From Ben on and off for a few months now. The Newport News resident works at Wallace's Trading Post in Williamsburg.

"It helps you get by when you don't have much," she said. "Money's tight."

No matter the frequency of visit, no matter the walk of life, visitors are always welcome. Newman and his team of volunteers don't ask questions, only that guests sign a notebook by the door. The book currently averages about 270 signatures.

The pantry's tables overflow with meats, frozen and canned foods, desserts, bread, fruit, vegetables. After browsing the room, Tracy Lockett brandished a hefty chunk of chuck roast.

"What I do is I chop it up and make beef stew," the Williamsburg resident said.

For Lockett, food found at A Gift from Ben sustains in times when employment or money is hard to come by. Currently studying nursing at Thomas Nelson Community College, the food allows him a diet that otherwise wouldn't be possible on a student's budget. Items like chuck roast or steak.

"I couldn't even enjoy that part of life if it wasn't for Thumper," he said.

The future of A Gift From Ben is uncertain. Newman said Living Proof Baptist has allowed A Gift From Ben to operate in the building until a different entity moves in, and a rent-free room allows Newman to keep expenses low.

At 57, Newman admits to slowing down.

"The older I get, the more of a struggle it is," he said.

He'd like to continue at least for five more years, marking 20 years since Ben's death and A Gift from Ben's birth.

For now, Newman's wish is simple: "If (people) see not just my charity, but if they see somebody who needs help, just to help them."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

More information

A Gift From Ben distributes food at 309 Waltz Farm Drive every Monday and Friday from 1-5 p.m. For more information, visit thumpernewman.com or email agiftfromben@aol.com.

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