Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huntersville food pantry an integral part of community

For many, the option of running to the nearest grocery store and picking up a few things isn't an option.

In times of need, when money is tight, these people must find other ways to feed themselves and their families.

One such alternative is the Loaves & Fishes food pantry housed at Huntersville United Methodist Church.

North Mecklenburg's largest emergency food pantry, the Huntersville location is one of 17 pantries across the county. Clients are carefully screened by the Loaves & Fishes administrative office in Charlotte - in order to ensure that only those truly in need are served - then provided with a week's worth of groceries.

To avoid dependency, Loaves & Fishes allows clients to visit the pantry once every 60 days.

Provided food items include canned vegetables and soups, cereal, fruit, peanut butter and muffin mix, said Wanda Kerns, a co-director of the Huntersville pantry.

Kerns also said perishable items such as produce, meats, pastries and breads are delivered once a week. These items are supplied by local grocery stores, while an assortment of perishable and nonperishable items come from Loaves & Fishes' warehouse.

Kerns also noted that the pantry is always open to donations from individuals, schools, churches and businesses.

The Huntersville food pantry, which is open 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday every week, was founded in 1987 by five area churches: Huntersville United Methodist, Huntersville Presbyterian, First Baptist of Huntersville, Huntersville Church of God and Huntersville Associate Reformed Presbyterian.

The pantry is staffed by a mixture of volunteers from Huntersville United Methodist, Christ Community Church, Huntersville Presbyterian and Vineyard Community Church.

Although Huntersville United Methodist has housed the pantry from the beginning, it has always been a collaborative ministry.

According to Huntersville co-director Jackie MacVean, the five churches saw a need, knew about the existing Loaves & Fishes organization and decided to help the north end of the county.

"It's a big ministry for (Huntersville United Methodist)," she said, "but it's still (more) a community effort."

Kerns stressed that such community support is directly responsible for the pantry's 22-year history. Kerns said that a solid volunteer base allows the pantry to operate four days a week and that area churches and schools help keep the shelves stocked.

One church recently held a competition between two Sunday school classes to see who could raise the most food by weight, she said.

Kerns also noted that a Thanksgiving food drive by Huntersville Elementary School led to a donation of 2,487 pounds to the pantry.

Widespread support of the Huntersville Loaves & Fishes pantry also extends to other Lake Norman human services organizations, including the Solomon House, which provides health education to those less fortunate and numerous referrals to the pantry. Another involved organization is the Angels and Sparrows soup kitchen, with which the pantry has a symbiotic relationship.

"Sometimes we trade (food) with Angels and Sparrows," Kerns said, "if we have an item that's better suited to their needs, and if they have one that's better suited to ours. It's a nice working relationship."

The collaborative effort that keeps the pantry stocked and operating is a necessary one. Kerns said there has been about a 35 percent increase in the amount of people seeking food from the pantry over last year's figures.

"We have a lot of first-timers," she said, "and some whom we haven't seen in two or three years, but who are now back."

With the holiday season approaching - when the pantry is busier than at other times of the year - the number of people coming to the pantry for help is bound to increase. The pantry helped 73 families in the four days it was open before Thanksgiving. Normally, the weekly average is between 45 and 50.

Even given the increase, however, Kerns said the pantry has never been on the brink of closing down. She attributes this to the outpouring of support from all over the Lake Norman area.

"Every time it seems the cupboard is getting a little low," she said, "some group steps up with a donation."

The community is behind the pantry, reassuring to both the pantry's staff and volunteers and those it serves.

"The pantry is an integral part of the community," Kerns said. "I don't think people would let the doors close."