Food pantries step up
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 13:41

Churches give help to address growing need

by John G. Bailey

he network of  food pantries and clothes closets in the area usually do not get a lot of attention. For people fortunate enough not to need them, perhaps they are easy to ignore; “out of sight, out of mind.” But for others, the church-based resource centers provide a vital service.
    Debora Atkins of Pleasant Zion Baptist Church is a founding member of the church’s Helping Hand food pantry program, which opened in March 2010.
    “Many of our clients tell me they wouldn’t know what they’d do without the pantry,” she said.
    Helping Hand serves people in need weekly on Wednesdays with a variety of fresh and canned foods. The pantry relies heavily on the Maryland Food Bank and other state and federal organizations for supplies and funding.
    To qualify for the aid, Helping Hand is required to conduct quarterly surveys of clients to determine, among other things, why people need the service.
    Some clients turn to Helping Hand when money from Social Security payments run out. Others rely on the food pantry so that they can pay for medications or other necessities. Unemployment, underemployment and food stamp reductions also show up frequently in the surveys.
    In addition to government sources, Helping Hand also receives dontions of food from local grocery stores.
    “We never run out of food,” Atkins said.    
    Helping Hand serves over 100 people each week. The number jumps once a month on “bulk day,” when meat and fresh produce are distributed. A current ID is the only eligibility requirement for clients. “We help anyone in need,” Atkins said. 
    A policy of “client choice” at the food pantry allows clients to pick the groceries that they want. “They leave happy,” Atkins said.
    Pat Newport runs the Sonshine Fellowship Church food and clothes pantry, which has been in operation for two years. The pantry serves about six people a week on an appointment-only basis.
    Newport said that the number of people served  fluctuates. The number is down at the beginning of the month after Social Security checks are received, and it increases at the end of the month and during winter months.
    Asked if the pantry reached enough people, Newport said, “There’s a lot of people that are still in need, who can’t get to us for one reason or another.”
    The program ministers to client’s spiritual as well as material needs. Church members discuss holy scripture and share the Gospel message with clients. “But that doesn’t hinder people from receiving aid,” Newport said. 
    Penwood Christian Church also operates  a food pantry and clothes closet.
    Susan Hall, who has helped run both operations for 10 years, describes the need for clothes and food as “pretty steady.” Along with supplies distributed at the church, Penwood Christian donates clothes to Helping Up, Purple Heart and different missions.
    The church also donates furniture for families in need. “Last year, we furnished eight homes,” Hall said.
    “The food pantry serves a lot of new people from year to year,” she said. The clients who do return tend to be elderly.
    There are no eligibility requirements for people seeking food or clothes at the church. “Just call me in advance,” said Hall. 
    Kathy Marshall, director of the St. Luke Roman Catholic Church food pantry, discussed her operation at this month’s North Point Peninsula Council’s meeting on Feb. 6.
    A well-established organization, the food pantry has been serving the peninsula since the 1970s. The pantry works with a network of donor organizations, which include businesses and other area churches, to provide for the needs of 40 to 50 families per month on the North Point peninsula.      
    Yet despite the community effort, the need for food from the pantry is increasing, according to Marshall. And demand spikes around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
    Along with food, the operation at St. Luke Catholic Church also collects clothes for distribution. Marshall explained that although clothes donations are hard to predict, clients are allowed to pick what they need.
    Churches that supply the pantry kitchen and donate other resources include the First Christian Church of Edgemere, Hughes Memorial Church, Lodge Farm United Methodist Church and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. Other donors include the Millers Island Business Association, Sonny’s Salon, Food Lion, Wells-McComas VFW and Edgmere Senior Center.
    In addtion to regular donors, other groups help when they can. St Luke’s Place donated items from its mitten tree collection this year.
    Area food pantries and clothes closets are listed in the Church News section of The Eagle.