The ladies opened the hatch to the Ford Explorer, and all that could be seen in the car was the faded brown color of cardboard from box after box that had been carefully packed inside.
One by one, Shelby Wilkins and Irene Kottmer pulled out each box and loaded them at the Virginia Beach School Administration Building. These boxes were carrying 3,000 items of food to donate to the children of Virginia Beach.
It was a massive donation that began with just one email.
Suzette Lynn, co-owner of Pungo Pizza, a pizzeria located off Princess Anne Road, was at work when fellow owner, Angela Brown, showed her an email that had caught her attention. The email was from Virginia Beach Schools. It was an effort to raise awareness, funds and donations for the struggling Beach Bags program, which provides food for students in need to ensure they have meals over weekends and holiday breaks.
At that time, there was only enough donated food to provide bags for two more weeks.
“She brought it to me (and said), ‘Is there anything we can do?’” Lynn said.
They only needed to look to the walls for their inspiration.
“We thought we’d sell Beach Bags for one dollar,” she said. The restaurant’s staff created paper Beach Bags that they would sell to their customers, and post the bags on Pungo Pizza’s walls with customers’ names after they purchased them.
It was an idea that caught on like wildfire, thanks, Lynn said, to her outstanding wait staff, including Wilkins, Kottmer and Beth Linsanigan.
“It’s them,” Brown said. “I think the real push is our servers selling it.”
For Wilkins and Kottmer, the need hit close to home. Both are graduates of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and said the idea there were children going hungry was all the motivation they needed.
“I just think it’s a really good cause,” Kottmer said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have proper nutrition on weekends.”
“When I grew up, I always had (meals at home, lunches at school),” she said. “To think about those who don’t have it, it’s heartbreaking.”
Their passion yielded great results. In the spring, Pungo Pizza raised more than $1,600. As an additional bonus, one of the restaurant’s suppliers agreed to sell Beach Bags items to the store at cost.
“It’s cool for me…to buy that stuff at wholesale,” Lynn said. “You’re getting more bang for your buck.”
The spring campaign helped provide bags for students for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year. This fall, the team decided to do the same campaign in November. This time, there were even bigger results.
All totaled, more than 4,500 items of food were donated and delivered throughout the fall.
“To say that we are grateful to the owners, staff and customers of Pungo Pizza is an understatement,” said Eileen Cox, VBCPS director of communications and community engagement. “They are changing the lives of children who might otherwise go hungry, and they are doing it $1 donation at a time. Their generosity is humbling.”
This sort of giving spirit is not uncharacteristic for the Pungo Pizza team. Throughout the year, the restaurant will host fundraisers for local schools, including Three Oaks Elementary, Creeds Elementary and Ocean Lakes Elementary, just to name a few. The restaurant has also partnered with Untamed Spirit, an organization that uses horses as therapy for children with disabilities.
“We try to be philanthropic,” Lynn said, adding that the real praise belong to the diners at Pungo Pizza who decided they would give their money for a good cause.
“It’s our guests who are amazing.”