Mecklenburg County’s system of food pantries for the hungry hit a new high Monday, when Loaves & Fishes opened its 20th pantry.
In a sign of the community’s changing population, the new site at 3601 Central Ave. is the third pantry to cater to a largely immigrant and refugee population.
The new pantry, which has bilingual staff, is at Centro Cristiano Dios de Pactos Church, a nondenominational Latino congregation that took over the former home of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Central Avenue.
Beverly Howard of Loaves & Fishes says St. Andrew’s operated a pantry at the location for 21 years, but it closed 13 months ago when that congregation vacated the building.
Prior to closing, it helped about 3,600 people annually, Howard said, including many who were referred for help by the Latin American Coalition, which helps immigrants connect with local services.
Harris Teeter jump-started the reopening by providing $13,000 raised at an annual golf tournament for the purchase of groceries. That’s enough money to fill the shelves at least four times in coming weeks, pantry officials said.
Howard says the growth in pantry sites is part of the nonprofit’s effort to bring aid directly to neighborhoods.
“These are people for whom transportation can be an obstacle,” she said. “It would be easier for us to have one big pantry, but it would be tougher for the clients to get there.”
Mecklenburg County experienced a 51 percent increase in the number of people served by pantries between 2008 and 2012.
“We were thrilled to see that percent of increase level off in 2013, but before we celebrate too much we need to remember that Loaves & Fishes still provided a week’s worth of food to 105,015 people in Mecklenburg County last year,” Howard said.
The new pantry will be open Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, and it will serve people referred by other nonprofits.