Eulie Tilghman, a senior Brookneal resident, receives a small amount of money each month and works hard to stretch it as far as it can go. She often finds it a struggle to get food for herself as a result.
Last year Campbell County Social Services provided her with a phone number to Candlelight Ministries for help.
That call inspired ministry founders Cheryl and Larry Randall to expand their nonprofit into Brookneal last October to reach Tilghman and more than 20 other families.
“Brookneal is basically a ghost town; everything is basically closed up,” Tilghman said. “It’s a blessing what they’re doing. They’re very sweet people because I wouldn’t have had any food to eat and I love this ministry; they pray with me and I enjoy it,” she said. “It makes such a difference; I wouldn’t have had any food. Fifteen dollars a month is not going to last me; plus I’m a diabetic, so I’ve got to have food. The light bill and everything uses my check up and I can’t buy food.”
Candlelight Ministries was established 14 years ago primarily to provide food to seniors. Today it serves about 2,200 people a month in Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell. The Randalls said their next goal is to expand into Nelson County.
“We really feel like we’re being directed by God, number one,” Cheryl Randall said of starting the ministry. “We knew God was directing us someplace. I almost cried as we drove through Brookneal because almost all of the stores are closed and you see these people coming out of the Dollar General with just a couple of bags and just knowing they don’t have [much],” she said.
She said seniors are the most forgotten and underserved individuals.
“Most of the complexes that we serve are sliding scale in regards to their income, but still it makes it very difficult for them to pay their rent and the rising cost of their medication,” she said. “You have people who are on insulin paying $1,300 a month for their medicine and cannot afford to eat. This takes that equation out. They no longer have to worry about finding food.”
Apartment complexes Candlelight delivers to include Lynchburg’s Clear Brook Apartments on Hill Street, Jefferson house Apartments on Langhorne Square, Hillcrest Apartments on Birchwood Drive and Amherst Village Apartments on Newington Drive in Amherst County.
Larry Randall said when their clients can buy food they only can afford the basics, such as bread, milk and a can of beans.
Candlelight’s annual budget is less than $12,000. Larry Randall said it takes $50 to $75 a month to cover the cost of gas to and from Brookneal and donations are welcome. He added the ministry also is in need of a new truck. The one being used to pull the trailer, which holds all the food boxes, has 430,000 miles on it.
The Randalls, along with a handful of volunteers, pick up donated produce, bread, meat and dairy items from area stores, which get packaged into the Randalls’ large red trailer to be delivered to area households.
For blind clients, Cheryl Randall places braille cards on food items and cans so they know what they have and what they are opening.
Madison Heights residents Ronnie and Claudette Hatfield have been volunteering with the ministry for more than a decade.
“There’s a lot of people that are having trouble making ends meet, and some apartment buildings we go to, that was the majority of the food they got,” Ronnie Hatfield said.
Claudette Hatfield said the need is growing and there are other people who live further out who are handicapped or homebound and have a hard time finding food every week.
“And it’s not just the food [the Randalls] deliver,” she said. “It’s companionship, good and uplifting words and sometimes advice,” she said.
Candlelight participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pantry program. It distributes free USDA food — such as juices, beans and rice — from the Lynchburg branch of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Larry Randall said one client was able to pay her electric bill one month because she didn’t have to spend the money on food instead.
The Randalls know each client by name and said they could tell stories about them over the course of several days.
“You get so close to them and are able to get involved with their families,” Cheryl Randall said.
Larry Randall said he feels humbled and blessed to be a part of their lives.
“I’ve done quite a few of their funerals, and it doesn’t get any easier.”
The Randalls said anyone is welcome to ride along with them on a delivery to see what they do and meet the people they serve.
“Christmas comes once a year, but you know there are 11 more months where these folks are alone and hungry or just crave for someone to love them and they have a lot of wisdom to pass on,” Larry Randall said.
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.