She had nothing growing up. Now Maria Burdette is helping people in need.

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Maria Burdette has been wanting to open her own pantry for years. She's excited to see it actually happening.

RIPLEY When Maria Burdette was13 she had to boil water on the stove, carefully walk it to the tub and repeat several times to take a bath. 

She didn't have much growing up. Her mom was in and out constantly, her dad was never in the picture. She was a kid who would jump with joy whenever she got a new bottle of body wash — she usually didn't have any. 

At 29, Burdette has decided to help people who are struggling like she once did. That's what made her open a toiletries pantry. 

"If I can change that for someone else, then I want to," Burdette said. "I don't want a kid to feel like I felt."

She has a Facebook page called Jackson County toiletries and cleaning products pantry where she shares updates of her inventory. People can call her at 304-377-5968 or send her a Facebook message if they need anything or want to make a donation. 

Burdette spent a chunk of her childhood couch surfing and sleeping on park benches. She would constantly battle her emotions, asking herself why she was experiencing this pain when she had done nothing wrong. 

She's trying to make sure fewer people, especially children, feel this way. Burdette has spent $200 so far on products from feminine hygiene to baby wipes for people in need. 

After seeing COVID-19 devastate Jackson County, Burdette knew it was finally time to make her dream of helping people come true. She knew she didn't want to get caught up in the strings of becoming a 501(c)3, so she reached out to Rhonda Lee who opened her own pantry in 2020. 

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Lee's operation is focused on food. She offers a few toiletries, but sometimes she runs out of items, like deodorant. By the time Burdette got off the phone with Lee, she knew she was going to open the county's first toiletries-only pantry. 

"I need to do this right now," she said. 

The pantry has become her life. She quit her job to devote all of her time to helping others. Her husband, Mark Burdette, couldn't be more supportive of her. 

When she told him she wanted to quit her job and work primarily on her pantry, it was a no-brainer for Mark. 

"This is a necessity for everybody, not just food and not just clothes and stuff like that, but stuff to make you feel clean and good about yourself and boost your self esteem," he said. 

She's seen how COVID-19 has wrecked families, and believes it's time for someone to help them. When Burdette lost everything as a child, she felt so hopeless. It was like her heart was being torn out she doesn't want other people to feel that way. 

Burdette wants people who are struggling to know that they don't have to choose between paying bills or buying necessities like baby diapers. She's been there and holds no judgement toward anyone who needs a hand. 

"I don't care what you look like, what you sound like, who you are, what you are," Burdette said. "If you need something from me, I will give it to you."

When it comes to how many items people will get, Burdette said she'll go with her gut. A family of five, for example, will get five bars of soap while a single person will get one. Whenever someone makes an order, Burdette said she will meet them somewhere or deliver the package as soon as possible. 

Her pantry also has items specifically in mind for homeless people. She has individually-wrapped toilet paper rolls, dry shampoo and wipes for people who don't have access to a shower to clean up. 

"They can't get a job if they're not clean," she said. 

As her operation continues to expand, she is generating a list of all the pantries in Jackson County. From the baby pantry to food pantries, she's hoping to form a network where she has a full arsenal to help those in need. Burdette is also keeping all of her receipts so donors can see what their money goes toward. 

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.