The Loaves & Fishes Pantry at Harrison United Methodist Church, at the corner of Providence Road West and Lancaster Highway, will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month.
There are some mixed feelings prior to the celebration, however: Traffic at the pantry is down, but instead of crediting it to fewer people needing food, pantry organizers fear it is because people don’t know the pantry is there.
“For the past few months, we’ve been slow,” said Harrison UMC Associate Pastor Tim Webster. “We can’t imagine that it’s because people don’t need food. We are looking at ways to make sure that people know about us and that the people who need food are getting served.
“We would be real happy if no none needed food, but we’re pretty sure they do.”
Clients must be referred to one of Loaves & Fishes’ 17 pantries to be served. Webster said Harrison UMC pantry leaders are sending information to local pastors, doctors’ offices, social workers and school guidance counselors encouraging them to refer hungry people to the pantry.
Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Beverly Howard said the Harrison pantry’s location also limits access for some.
“They aren’t on a bus route, and we knew that when we put it there five years ago, so many of our clients don’t have transportation and they just can’t get there,” Howard said.
Roscoe Hinton, co-chairman of the Loaves & Fishes Pantry at Harrison UMC, said most of the clients come from outside the Ballantyne area.
“We’re in pretty nice neighborhood,” Hinton said. “Most of our clients come from outside the 28277 ZIP code, but I don’t think transportation stops people who are hungry and have kids who are hungry. They find a way to get here.”
Even though numbers are down, Hinton said, the pantry still sees five to 10 clients each week, which, when the size of the family is factored in, means 20 or more hungry people getting food.
Along the way, the Harrison pantry organizers have made some modifications to the pantry that other pantries have copied.
“When a family is referred to us, they get a certain amount of food from different categories, such as vegetables, meat and fruit,” said Webster. “The amount given depends on the size of their family.
“All the food used to be stored in a small room, and volunteers would select and pack the food for them, but a few years ago we moved to what we call ‘Clients’ Choice.’ We were able to open a new space and set items on shelves like a small grocery store.
“We now give clients a list of the categories and let them choose the foods they like best from each. We’ve had a number of other pantries come to look at this model, and they have adopted it as well.”
Harris UMC pantry co-chairwoman Jean Salvo says the program is a blessing for those needing food and for the volunteers who work there.
“I feel so humbled to be able to work here,” Salvo said. “Our volunteers are the heart of this organization and we are so grateful to have them.
“But they will tell you that many times they get more out of this experience than they give. Jesus called us to help others, and feeding hungry people is a wonderful way to answer that call.”
Howard said she’s thankful for all the pantries throughout the area – some busier than others – particularly this time of year.
“Our busiest days are just about upon us,” Howard said. “There is more need in the first three days of Thanksgiving week than any other week of the year.
“We are hoping that folks will help us stock our pantries and meet the need. We’ve not turned anyone away for lack of food, and we certainly don’t want to start this year.”
Hinton promises that won’t happen at the Harrison UMC pantry on his watch. “Right now we want to reach out to more people to let them know we have food available,” Hinton said. “I was raised in the slums of Chicago, and let me tell you, it’s miserable when you can’t feed your family.
“We had no place to go. I don’t want to see that happen here.”