Cars wound around the parking lot and down the street from the new God’s Storehouse & Soup Kitchen headquarters in Galax last Wednesday, as families and individuals — some from as far away as Whitetop and Mouth of Wilson — waited to pick up boxes of food, milk and supplies like toilet paper.
It was, however, the last of the box distributions for the foreseeable future, as the Storehouse’s COVID-related Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) grant money has run out.
The funds helped over 2,000 people for the last eight months. Formerly, God’s Storehouse used the DHCD grant money to partner with local restaurants and catering companies for food.
No new funds have been secured to replace them, though the city’s new cGrant Administrator Jolena Young and God’s Storehouse Director Kisha Johnson are looking. The Storehouse is also working with regional food bank Feeding Southwest Virginia.
According to Johnson, some people came as early as 5 a.m. to line up for the food box distribution, which didn’t start until late morning. Despite the grim circumstances, volunteers and beneficiaries alike were in high spirits, laughing and bantering as the line moved along on June 15.
The Storehouse’s new headquarters are located at the former Oldtown Market, but it has not been renovated to include a kitchen yet. God’s Storehouse is still using the kitchens located in the basement at Rooftop of Virginia, just a couple of blocks away, where the non-profit started out.
While the Appalachian Regional Commission is assisting financially with the Oldtown Market renovations, which are going forward, the food is still a question of immediate funding — and donations.
“They’re going to start doing regular food boxes like they used to do before the COVID grant, the first Wednesday of every month, starting in July,” said former city manager and God’s Storehouse Board Member Keith Barker. Johnson confirmed it, and said that Blue Ridge Fellowship church is going to help with milk or eggs.
While U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) had been invited to witness the final distribution, he was unable to attend. However, he sent his regional office director, Shane Clem, to observe. Clem ended up rolling up his sleeves and pitching in to help tote boxes to cars.
Warner later issued a statement about the non-profit’s situation, saying, in part, “Food banks like God’s Storehouse work day-in and day-out to make sure that families don’t go hungry, which is why I’ve made it my mission in the Senate to support these efforts both at the individual level and on a grand scale through federal legislation.”
“The need is just so huge,” Johnson said later. “The majority of people we serve are elderly and disabled. We had 225 boxes to give away, but they were gone [quickly]. If we’d had 300, we’d still have needed more.”
She continued, “We need help with milk and eggs and orange juice at the very least. We have foods that we get from Feeding America, but they are nothing like the boxes we’ve been doing the past year.”
Along with food boxes — which they plan to give out the first Wednesday of every month, instead of the first and third as before — God’s Storehouse is seeking people to cook and serve hot meals three days a week from the Rooftop basement kitchens, as well as donations of the food itself for that part of its ministry.
Johnson said there is a particular need for shelf-stable, single-serving pop-top foods that are easy for children, disabled people or the elderly to open.
“We’re blessed to be a blessing,” Johnson said, describing the non-profit’s mission. “If we have enough money to feed our neighbor, shouldn’t we?”
If you would like to make a monetary donation, you can send it to God’s Storehouse & Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 81, Galax, VA 24333. To volunteer your or your organization’s time or inquire about donating food, contact Dalena Parks at (276) 233-6096.
Two new Galax School Board members are taking their seats in July.
After submitting letters of interest and being interviewed by Galax City Council — the governing body for appointing school board members — Edith Mar Castillo and the Rev. Dr. Kevin Rosenfeld were chosen last week from a field of five candidates.
Castillo, who says she’s best known as “Edith Mar” in the community, has lived and worked in Galax since 1999. From August 2016 to December 2019, she was an ESL (English as a Second Language) aide in the schools, “So I kinda know the needs,” she said.
When she left the school, she and her husband took over the Embroideryville business in Galax. “I realized, hey, now I can do this because I’m not in the school system,” Castillo said.
Taking a chance at a school board appointment was important to her. “The reason why is that I would like to get the Hispanic community more involved in the school, and maybe by having someone Hispanic in there, they will be more open to that,” she said.
Castillo has two boys, one going into fourth grade and one going into sixth. However, while she’s the first Hispanic school board member and can bring that perspective to the job, she considers herself there for the service of everyone.
“I work for everybody to be more involved in the school — not only the Hispanic parents, but all the parents,” she said firmly. “They need to be more involved in their children’s education.”
She added, “I just want to give back to my community; they have given a lot to me.”
In coaching soccer for Galax Parks & Recreation over eight years, Castillo said she has noticed that it draws people in and acts as a uniting force. “We have seen more people coming into soccer — not only the Hispanic, but all the cultures have joined together,” she said.
Castillo said she would like to bring that sense of unity and participation into education, as well, especially in the pursuit of higher education. “I feel like our children need more family support,” she said. “Most of the time, they go to high school and they think that it’s done, but it’s not done. There’s more after high school, so I want to push that.”
While continuing education could include either traditional college or possibly trade school, she said it’s important for students to see that the option is there.
Castillo concluded, “I want to push our students to go above high school, to go into college, because they think, ‘OK high school is done, now I get to work.’ But it’s not like that. They can have a better future.”
The Rev. Dr. Kevin Rosenfeld and his wife discussed submitting her name for the school board seat, he said, but “the more we talked, the more I realized maybe with my experience I would be better, if they would have me. If I’m fortunate and it’s God’s will, that’s fine — if not, that’s also fine.”
He noted that City Council Member Travis Haynes had reached out to suggest he apply for the seat; but even with one council member’s encouragement, applicants still have to be approved by the full council, and no endorsement from a council member is needed to apply.
Rosenfeld said, “I have a vested interest in the kids. I always believe we should be working and helping the next generation.”
He and his wife have a 16-year-old entering 11th grade and a 14-year-old entering 9th grade.
“I don’t really have an agenda,” he said, but he does bring both educational and life experience. “For decades I served on the board at First Christian School in South Hill,” where he also pastored.
Rosenfeld also has a history of work in academic settings. “I’ve been fortunate to teach and work at the University of Richmond, Central Piedmont Community College and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond,” where he lived for six years.
Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., Rosenfeld was raised Catholic and was a chef, he said, before he received the call to ministry in the Protestant faith, which eventually led him to his position as pastor at First Baptist Church in Galax.
Though he has experience especially in curriculum development, said Rosenfeld, “I’m just excited to be part of a group of people to work together to help the kids.”
Their first meeting as new school board members will be held on July 12 at 7 p.m. at the Galax High School Library. All regularly scheduled Galax City School Board meetings are open to the public; closed sessions will be held within the meetings as needed.
Sheriff Richard Vaughan is asking Grayson County to provide funding for more patrol deputies, and he recently presented the board of supervisors with the results of an extensive study supporting his request.
The independent study showed that, based on one population model, the county has less than half the recommended number of patrol deputies — 12, compared to the recommended 25. Another population model showed that, at minimum, Grayson needs five more patrol deputies on the road.
The Virginia-based Crime Prevention Center for Training & Services conducted the study, which involved an in-depth analysis of sheriff’s office operations, an assessment of needs and a citizen survey. At the end of the study, the center recommended that Grayson hire five additional patrol deputies to improve law enforcement coverage and response times — a desire of both the sheriff and the citizens answering the survey.
However, while developing the budget for the next fiscal year, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors approved funding for only one additional patrol deputy position, the sheriff said.
Vaughan recently released a summary of the survey, conducted by Rick Arrington of the Crime Prevention Center. Arrington began the study this March, with the objective of reviewing law enforcement staffing and making recommendations for current and future needs regarding officer deployment, effectiveness and efficiency of operations.
Arrington conducted internal and external interviews; reviewed data, internal reports and records; and looked at staff deployment schedules and analysis of calls for service. He also toured parts of the county and surveyed citizens.
According to the report to the board of supervisors, the Crime Prevention Center spent four days in Grayson County conducting over 40 interviews with citizens, business stakeholders, sheriff’s office staff and two county supervisors; and attended an overview meeting for input at the Whitetop Community Center. During other interviews, a total of 26 citizens and business representatives completed surveys.
On May 12, Arrington presented his findings to the Grayson County Board of Supervisors. Sheriff Vaughan and the GCSO Command Staff were also on hand for the presentation.
For the purposes of the study, Arrington said he “concentrated on the staffing of law enforcement patrol, or so-called ‘road deputies.’ Other than a tangential examination, this excludes any deputies working in a jail corrections capacity, courtroom security, or civil process only capacity. It also excludes any dispatchers or non-sworn personnel.”
According to the study’s findings, having only 12 patrol deputies, coupled with the travel distance between calls, results in longer response times. “The long drive times present an issue related to officer and community safety, as responding officers must travel lengthy distances to answer calls for services,” Arrington said.
When only one officer is available for a call, a situation can be potentially unsafe, he added.
Low staffing also creates the potential for officers being unsupervised by a superior, due to those supervisors also needing to respond to calls in the capacity of a road deputy, Arrington said. “This practice may create liability concerns over deputy inaction, negligence or improper action, commonly known as ‘failure to supervise.’ Without proper supervision, law enforcement may be unaware until it is too late concerning officer misconduct.”
The Virginia Compensation Board’s per capita model of staffing funds one deputy per 1,500 population. Arrington said it is, “difficult to determine the historical origin of, or justification for, the per capita method.”
While the per capita model is simple to use, he said it only addresses the quantity of law enforcement deputies needed, not how officers spend their time or safety concerns. It also does not take into consideration a police department’s needs for training and community engagement, nor does it address the uniqueness of the locality or county.
“Per capita ratios do not account for the intensity of workload by jurisdiction, nor do they account for crime rate,” he said. “It does not incorporate service-area size, weather patterns or physical barriers and obstacles impacting response to calls (such as rivers and mountains) in determining optimum staffing levels.”
For these reasons and other, Arrington said, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has advised against using population rates to deterimine police staffing needs. “Law enforcement deputies should be considered the same as police officers in staffing.”
A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) measured the number of full-time officers per 1,000 residents instead of 1,500. The BJA study found an average ratio of 2.5 full-time officers (not deputies) per 1,000 residents in Virginia.
“Even the lowest measure in the BJS study was 1.8 [officers] per 1,000, demonstrating an inadequacy in the number needed in Virginia, if the per capita measure is used,” Arrington said. “Using the lowest measure of 1.8 law enforcement officers per 1,000 population, Grayson County Sheriff’s Office should have 25 officers in a patrol capacity” — more than double what it has currently.
“Even utilizing Virginia’s 1,500 population times the 1.8 measure, Grayson should have a minimum of 17 deputies providing law enforcement duties, five more than the current 12 deputies serving in this capacity,” Arrington said.
Grayson County’s dozen road deputies cover more than 400 square miles and serve a population of more than 14,000 citizens.
Arrington said one would expect to see fewer police in smaller areas, but that’s not the case. Some Southwest Virginia localities with around half the population of Grayson have twice as many officers.
Data from 2019 showed the following staffing levels in surrounding areas:
• Abingdon: 7,933 population, 24 officers
• Wytheville: 7,909 populatilon, 25 officers
• Galax: 6,320 population, 23 officers
• Marion: 5,593 population, 18 officers
“While these are towns or cities patrolled by police officers, not deputies, the role is the same, simply funded differently,” Arrington said.
Arrington surveyed citizens and business operators across the county. Of those who identified their residence or business area, they were from Fairview, Independence, Fries, Whitetop and Mouth of Wilson.
The participants were asked how many deputies they thought should patrol the county; how many they thought did patrol the county; and whether they thought the numbers were sufficient, too many or about right. Citizens believed that the sheriff’s office had far more road deputies than it actually does.
“It is interesting that the perception survey supports our analysis that additional patrol staff is needed,” Arrington reported. “The fact that the perception was that the minimum deputies they believed patrolled now is what our minimum needs identified per shift is interesting.”
Citizens surveyed said the lowest average acceptable response time to an emergency call is 17 minutes. This is close to the 20-minute goal established by Sheriff Vaughan.
After collecting data, the Crime Prevention Center offered three alternative approaches for increasing deputy staffing, and suggested a phased approach in implementing them.
“Recognizing the immediate need and the future need, as well, is necessary due to budgetary considerations and time constraints for getting a fully functional deputy hired, trained and able to work alone,” Arrington said.
The center recommended the county use Alternative B as the first phase, hiring a portion of the needed staff to relieve the pressure on existing deputies, then use Alternative A (full staffing) as the second phase. They also offered an Alternative C that only meets the bare minimum needs.
Alternative A — This is the costliest immediate solution, but the center said it is the best solution to achieve an adequate patrol staffing level. It would require hiring five additional patrol deputies, excluding one that is currently in the police academy, while promoting the department’s two corporals to sergeant.
The result would be the elimination of the corporal rank. If a scheduling adjustment is made for sergeants, as proposed in Alternative B, the promotion of corporals to sergeant may not be required.
The expenditure would be for five new deputy salaries, benefits, training, uniforms and patrol units. The salary bump commensurate with promoting the corporals, if the promotions are chosen as part of the solution, would also be an added expense.
The cost of Alternative A — not including training, uniforms and equipment — comes to $318,568.
Alternative B — “This alternative is the temporary recommendation, which I mentioned that should be immediately implemented until Alternative A can be implemented,” Arrington said.
This alternative requires the alteration of work schedules and hiring two deputies, a civilian (non-law enforcement) staff member for animal control, and a part-time civilian clerk this year, as soon as the budget authorizes it.
“This is the least expensive alternative to immediately address the barest minimum needs of the county without significant additional funding requirements,” Arrington added.
The cost of Alternative B — excluding training, uniforms and equipment — comes to $125,427.
Alternative C — “This alternative would only address the barest minimum of needs and is our last choice for recommendations,” Arrington said.
Alternative C is to simply hire two additional deputies to provide the bare minimum staffing, “but would not address the need to increase response times, officer safety or the supervision concern, and would not address time accumulation of vacation and compensatory time.”
The expenditure would be for three new deputy salaries, benefits, training, uniforms and patrol units.
The cost of Alternative C — excluding training, uniforms and equipment — comes to $188,141.
“The Grayson County Sheriff’s Office is providing quality services to the community; however, the department operates with fewer members than is required to provide the level of service that the GCSO and the community it serves envisions,” Arrington said. “The patrol staff availability is inadequate... The sheriff expressed that his desire was a no more than 20-minute response time for an emergency and the citizen surveys averaged at 17 minutes being the lowest acceptable time. With the current staffing, neither is probable.”
He recommended that the county hire five additional deputies for the patrol function, excluding a new deputy who was attending the Criminal Justice Training Academy at the time of the report.
Arrington said his recommendation was based not only based upon calculations, but also national data and the desires of both the sheriff’s office and citizens.
“Overall, given the limitations that are present with staff and resources, the GCSO is doing a noteworthy job,” he concluded. “Sheriff Vaughan’s resolve to continue to meet community engagement goals set for the agency and to stay connected are of paramount importance in maintaining the trust of the citizens and their partnership in addressing crime problems.”
Vaughan closed the presentation by saying that, “we all want a premier law enforcement organization. The first question most prospective citizens ask [is], ‘Is it safe?’ Of course we want good schools, jobs and good healthcare services, but the safety and security of our residents are at the top of the list. We must have additional patrol deputies to adequately cover the county.”
At the close of the May meeting, the sheriff asked the supervisors to consider phasing in the recommendations at the next budget workshop.
During budget talks in the weeks following the report, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors chose instead to approve one additional deputy position — below the Crime Prevention Center’s minimum recommendation of two deputies.
Vaughan said the plan moving forward is for the county to petition the Virginia Compensation Board for additional patrol deputy positions next year. “Should this approach fail, the board did say they would consider phasing in additional patrol deputy positions next year.”
The sheriff’s office staff also is working towards Grayson becoming a Certified Crime Prevention Community. Capt. Todd Perkins recently completed the training required to be a Certified Crime Prevention Specialist, “so we should be able to achieve this designation by the end of the year,” Vaughan said.
“The Galax Volunteer Fire Department announces that the 2022 Fireman’s Carnival is a go after all,” said Galax Chief Mike Ayers on Monday afternoon.
The triumphant news came after the GVFD had previously announced that the carnival that usually sets up in Felts Park was unable to come this year.
Now, according to Ayers, Cole Shows Amusement Company out of Covington will be bringing a 10-ride carnival to the park June 29-July 2.
“After much negotiation and even more prayer, we are blessed to have one of the premier carnivals on the East Coast coming to Galax,” Ayers said. “This year’s show will be a little smaller than normal with only 10 rides. The carnival also is starting a day later, on Wednesday, June 29, and running through Saturday, July 2.”
However, the GVFD will be “filling in the blanks with several bouncy houses, barrel train rides, face painting, fun picture cutouts, touch-a-truck nightly, and many more activities,” said Ayers.
Cole’s rides this year include The Brute, Funnel Force, Cliff Hanger, a carousel, Wonder Wheel, Rockstar, The Scat, Dragon Wagon, Skipper the Dolphin and The Hampton Combo, which can be looked up at colerides.com.
“We are so grateful to Cole Amusements for partnering with Galax Fire to continue this 40-year Fireman’s Carnival tradition,” said Ayers.
The Figure 8/Demolition Derby Races are also still on for July 1-2, beginning at 7 p.m. both evenings, which Ayers described as “Mayhem on the Midway!” Fireworks will cap off the week on July 2 at 11 p.m.
For more information, visit the GVFD website at galaxfire.com or find them on Facebook at facebook.com/GalaxFireDepartment. For more information about the rides, visit colerides.com. Tickets are also still on sale for the Great Galax Duck Race on July 4, for $5 per ticket.
A dog was rescued from a South Main Street structure fire at 6:26 a.m. on June 17, after human occupants were already safely out of the building, according to a report from the Galax Volunteer Fire Department.
Firefighters summoned to the blaze discovered a single-wide mobile home with floor-to-ceiling smoke, the report said. The occupants — a family of two adults and four children — had been shepherded outside by the mother. She woke up and alerted everyone else, and were already out when help arrived.
A dog was still trapped inside. Firefighters entered, then quickly found the dog and exited with it before continuing to extinguish the fire, which was contained to the air handler from the air conditioning unit.
The report said one occupant of the home was transported by Galax-Grayson EMS for treatment of smoke inhalation; another was treated at the scene by Galax firefighters.
After putting out the fire, the GVFD installed four smoke detectors. Under the Deanna Project, he GVFD installs free smoke alarms. The department urges citizens to get them and to keep fresh batteries installed in all smoke detectors for safety’s sake.
If you would like to inquire about this, call the GVFD and leave a message at 276-235-9850.