JAMES CITY — Gene Spare, 75, worked hard to put food on the dinner table.
When he retired from BASF Corp. as a special projects manager of 32 years, he never pictured going back to work or depending on a local food pantry to feed his family.
Now the James City man supplements his pension with a part-time job stocking shelves at Walmart. He also visits Grove Christian Outreach Center on Bread & More Wednesdays to help feed himself and his wife.
The Christian center along Pocahontas Trail is a nonprofit organization served 552 of the 1,400 households in Grove last year, said Pat McCormick, executive director of the center.
Spare and other hungry families in Grove were well fed this week thanks to more than 4,000 pounds of surplus food donated to the center by Busch Gardens on Wednesday.
The theme park donated produce, dairy and packaged food left over from Christmas Town, according to a Busch Gardens press release.
"It's perfectly good food, but we have a time period where (the park) is not open, it ages out and we would throw it away," Busch Gardens President Carl Lum said. "In October we said, 'we're going to find a way to donate this food.'"
About 80 households collected the food, along with items purchased from the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank and local grocery stores, McCormick said.
"There are some very loving and caring people in this community," McCormick said. "We share in their joys and their heartaches and their suffering. They are like family."
The Grove neighborhood is just south of Busch Gardens. The theme park plans to donate more surplus food to residents as opportunities arise, said Lindsey Mair, a buyer for Busch Gardens.
"They are our neighbors," Mair said. "They are in our back yard, and we are happy to be a part of this community."
Lum wants the park to donate extra food to the center more frequently.
"If you do the right things in business you can certainly do what you need to do to deliver your business objectives, but you can do other things that make this area a better place to live. I think in the long run, that's what's really important," Lum said.
Grove has a high number of low and fixed-income residents and is considered a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nearest grocery store is about six miles away, and about 10 percent of households do not have cars, said McCormick.
"Without (the center), there would be a lot of people here that would be more than destitute," Spare said. "If I ever hit the lottery, they will be getting $1 million."
To see pictures and video of the event, visit vagazette.com.
Mayfield can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828.