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‘Overwhelming’ support: Westminster winery, Christian organization join to deliver donations during pandemic

By partnering with a local Christian organization, a Westminster winery has found a way to stay connected to its customers and help others in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Old Westminster Winery indefinitely closed its tasting room last month due to the pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and will remain closed while Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order is in place. As a result, adjustments had to be made to how they do business and engage with the community.

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Winery employees have started doing home deliveries for customers who still want to buy wine, and they are asking customers to donate food and other goods to leave on their doorstep for the employees to pick up when they deliver, according to Ashli Johnson, who founded the winery along with her siblings, Drew Baker and Lisa Hinton.

Johnson said the winery’s team of six has been delivering about 400-500 orders on a weekly basis — 150 orders were delivered April 17 alone.

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“The support has been overwhelming,” Johnson said. “People are leaving not just one bag — some homes are leaving two, three or four bags of items they want to donate — and it has really been such a cool thing to witness firsthand, but to also see the greater impact with Crossroads Community Center.”

Johnson asked her husband — Brandon Johnson, the Central Maryland multi-area director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and an assistant lacrosse coach at Westminster High School — if he had any connections to places where they could distribute the donated items in Westminster.

Brandon Johnson called Tim Adams, the missions pastor for Crossroads Church who then connected Johnson with Mike Strine, the director of Crossroads Community Center in Westminster, and they coordinated one day a week for Johnson to deliver the goods to the food pantry at the community center.

“Before we found this opportunity, I put a lot of thought into how FCA can serve, and you want to be sensitive to gathering people, so how do you involve people to help in masses rather than just me?” Brandon Johnson said. “This is a way FCA can serve while being sensitive to the times and being active and proactive.”

Strine, another Crossroads pastor who has been involved with Crossroads for over three years, wanted to find a way to help areas of the Westminster community in need. The community center opened its food pantry about a year ago to distribute these household goods to families.

“We run only strictly by donation, we survive strictly by that,” Strine said. “It’s been really great because they’ve been a major help in providing food for the people in that area just by the simple fact that we’re not running out when in the beginning, it looked a little scary.”

The winery, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is located on Ashli Johnson’s family’s farm, a retired juniper nursery for about 150 years before their parents purchased the property in the late ’90s.

Johnson and her siblings wanted to create something they could share with their family and friends while also putting their childhood property to good use, she said. Johnson, Baker and Hinton, who are each about 17 months apart in age, came together to develop the idea of starting a winery.

Johnson said the vineyard was planted in 2011 and the tasting room was built four years later. Since then, the winery has welcomed several hundred customers almost every weekend.

“This has been the hardest year yet, the most challenging for reasons outside of our control, but we are very thankful we have such a great community and customer base,” Johnson said. “We really try to stay connected through this challenging time.”

Small businesses around the country have taken a drastic hit during the pandemic, which has forced businesses to close and residents to stay indoors as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Johnson, who coordinates special events for the winery, said they plan to host a 10-year anniversary celebration for their customers in the future. Until then, they will continue to do what they can to best serve the community and support those in need during the pandemic.

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“They’re supporting us as a small business,” she said of the community. “That’s great that people have this innate desire to help people in need.”

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