NVFS honors Manassas man for volunteer work at SERVE food pantry

Manassas resident Ralph Lickey went to the headquarters of the SERVE food pantry six years ago and asked about volunteering. Staff members checked his driving record and then handed him the keys to one of the food pickup vans.

Lickey was tasked with driving to between five and 10 stores and restaurants to pick up food donations and take them back to the pantry, where they are shelved for distribution or used at the 92-bed homeless shelter on site.

That once-a-week run has morphed into about 25 hours of road time a week for Lickey, 71, who took on more hours after he retired from a job at Lowe’s. He drives Mondays through Fridays and one Saturday a month, hitting locations such as Target, Food Lion and local restaurants and collecting about 1,200 pounds of food each day.

“I just love what I do,” Lickey said. “I’m glad I can help out.”

Lickey recently won the Northern Virginia Family Service Presidential Award for volunteer of the year. SERVE is part of NVFS, a nonprofit organization that provides services to families throughout Northern Virginia. Lickey received a standing ovation from the audience at the ceremony this month in McLean, said Tonya McCreary, director of communications for NVFS.


Ralph Lickey collects food donations from local businesses. (Sarah Lane/The Washington Post)

“As paid staff we’re here and we do it because this is our career,” McCreary said. “It’s humbling to meet volunteers like Ralph who are on the front lines.”

NVFS uses about 3,500 volunteers agency-wide, McCreary said, including about 12 drivers to pick up food for SERVE’s pantry. In addition to donations of nonperishable items from area residents, the pantry gets a variety of donations, including leftover deli rotisserie chickens and meat, diapers, pet food, and produce from stories and restaurants. Lickey and the other drivers load the supplies into a large white van and take them back to the pantry each weekday and Saturdays.

Lickey’s wife of nearly 47 years, Jane, often joins him on his Saturday runs. She works on the custodial staff at Weems Elementary School in Manassas, so she can’t go with him during the week.

“He’s really built a rapport with the business owners,” McCreary said. “Getting all of those donations, there’s a little skill in that.”

Sometimes Lickey picks up an extra route if another driver is sick or a business calls emergency food service specialist Susie Schurtz with an unexpected donation that has to be picked up immediately. He also takes the vans to get serviced or refueled, Schurtz said, and helps train new drivers. No other driver does five shifts every week, she said, and none has been around as long as Lickey.

That’s why Schurtz said she has a number of volunteers at the food pantry but “only one Ralph.”

SERVE provides food and other assistance to residents of Western Prince William County and Manassas. Proof of residence and identification for everyone receiving food is required to access the pantry, but proof of income is not required. SERVE’s pantry needs donations of nonperishable food items, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items and diapers. To donate, call 571-748-2537.

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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