From now on to forever, the place where Rusty Thigpen sorted about a hundred thousand cans of green beans, where thousands of frozen turkeys were stored for decades of Thanksgivings and Christmases, where hundreds of gallons of milk were sent out with Feed Our Kids volunteers, and where he would always have a secret stash of chocolate and sweets for staff and volunteers, will be named in his honor.
At his retirement reception last week, longtime GRACE Food Pantry Manager Rusty Thigpen was rewarded for twenty years of service with the naming of the Food Pantry Warehouse in his honor. More than one hundred of Rusty’s friends, family members, and coworkers stood and applauded.
GRACE CEO Shonda Schaefer served as emcee and introduced speaker-upon-speaker singing Rusty’s praises. Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fikes read a proclamation recognizing Rusty’s many years of service to the community.
Shonda recalled it was because of Rusty the Food Pantry can now boast of being one of very few “Self Select” pantries in the region.
“When Rusty started we were just like other food banks,” said Shonda. “Clients would come and get their boxes full of groceries. The same groceries for everyone.”
Rusty changed all that by creating a pantry modeled after a small grocery store. “Our clients could select the foods they liked. Foods they knew how to fix. Foods their families liked,” said Shonda.
Not only were the taste and cultural preferences of GRACE clients served, but dietary restrictions and limitations were also recognized. Rusty’s pantry also offered infant products, hygiene and cleaning supplies, pet food, and other items.
The new program used a voucher system so clients could “shop”. For many clients, shopping at the GRACE Food Pantry taught or reinforced the life skills of menu-planning and budgeting.
“As our clients moved from GRACE to lives of self-sufficiency, these were the skills they took with them to Kroger and Tom Thumb,” said Shonda. “Over the last twenty years, we are now talking about generational self-sufficiency. And they all have Rusty to thank.”
Based on the average number of client visits to the Food Pantry each year, and multiplied by Rusty’s twenty years with GRACE, it is estimated at least 140,000 people have Rusty to thank.