Western Branch keeps giving

Published 7:15 pm Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Latasha Johnson had some difficulties in June.

The Suffolk resident and single mother of two suffered complications with her Type 2 diabetes and had car troubles last month, adding to the stress of managing a full-time job at Kindred Healthcare and studying for college.

She fell behind on her electric bill, and her service was scheduled to be shut off Monday. But the concerned citizens of Western Branch Philanthropy covered the cost and kept the power on.

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“It was amazing,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It was more than I was expecting. They went way beyond what I imagined.”

The Western Branch Philanthropy group was organized in January 2016 by Chesapeake resident Karen Pinegar. The needs of both friends and strangers are shared on their Facebook page and on the Western Branch Coming Together page.

It all started when Pinegar read a Facebook post about a cancer patient panhandling outside Kroger Marketplace in North Suffolk. She met the man with her husband, Ed Pinegar, and then posted on her Facebook page that he needed $300 for a weekly chemotherapy infusion treatment and $250 for housing.

Facebook friends donated $550 within hours, enough for a week’s treatment and a hotel room for week.

“I thought there was probably a lot of other people out here hurting, so I decided to start this group and it spread like wildfire,” Pinegar said.

More than 1,400 members have come together through this group to support those in need. Every need that is posted on the group’s page is carefully vetted to make sure the request is genuine, Pinegar said, with almost all requests being met.

“I feel very responsible to the community to make sure that everything I post and ask for is legit,” she said.

She has two storage units in Chesapeake filled with appliances, beds, couches, chairs, tables and numerous other furnishings that have been donated to the group. These are given out freely to those who need them.

Last Christmas, members were paired with children in the community to provide them with Christmas gifts that were outside of the families’ means.

“Every single person who took a child just went overboard with them,” Pinegar recalled.

Johnson met Pinegar through the group in 2016. She and two of her friends made a little girl’s Christmas later that year with clothes and toys.

“They do an awesome job,” Johnson said. “They go above and beyond when the need is there.”

Pinegar said the group doesn’t simply hand out money to those asking for help. Bills are paid directly and only for emergency needs. This support is for those that have fallen on sudden, tough times and not those looking for handouts.

“We’re about trying to help people that have fallen on hard times,” Pinegar said. “Something has come up, and they just need a boost.”

The community support each of these residents receives is swift and “overwhelming.”

“We can’t save the whole world, but to a few people we can be the whole world,” Pinegar said.

To find the group on Facebook, search for “Western Branch Philanthropy.”