It was a busy morning at the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry on Nov. 7.
Helen Thurman and Rita Boyd each sat at a desk, tallying the numbers from the day as Boyd’s husband, Charlie, and Charlotte Vanderbol restock the shelves after the pantry closed for the day.
In three hours that morning, the pantry distributed food to 52 families – the largest number of families served in a single day.
In October, the pantry provided food to 255 families.
St. Vincent DePaul is a ministry of St. Joseph Catholic Church and is one of two local pantries to receive the proceeds from this year’s Help the Hungry Bake Sale, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 22 at St. Joseph Catholic School gymnasium.
This is the ninth year for the event. Last year’s bake sale raised $45,000, which was divided between the St. Vincent DePaul and Ministerial Alliance food pantries.
Referrals for the food pantry are made through the East Missouri Action Agency. Each family receives commodities, along with canned soups, vegetables and boxed items the pantry has available. Personal care products are also provided – although the pantry is currently out of many hygiene items.
“We give the clients eggs, cheese, butter,” Thurman said. “We purchase chicken, hot dogs, bologna, ground turkey. The St. Louis Food Bank has not been sending us as much meat, so we’ve had to buy that.”
The pantry relies heavily on donated food items to fill in the gap.
“We’re looking forward to the Boy Scouts food drive. We are really running low on canned goods,” Boyd said.
The scouts will be collecting donated items on Saturday. Bags were distributed last weekend throughout the area.
Desloge Walmart and Proffer produce also provided food for the pantry to distribute. Other local businesses providing food to the pantry include BOGO Sandwiches providing food through its one-for-one program, and Krak ‘n Jak Bakery providing baked goods.
A walk-in cooler nearly full earlier that morning was bare, except for just a couple items.
“Help the Hungry helps set our budget for the year. We know how much we’ve got to work with. The food bank gives us the commodities (through the government), but we can also purchase food (from the bank) at a very minimal price,” Thurman said, believing it to be cents on the dollars.
The commodities received from the government through the St. Louis Food Bank vary from month to month, with breakfast cereal sent for this month.
“We always have juice. We’ve had peanut butter, canned vegetables, raisins,” Boyd said.
Vanderbol said the amount of commodities received by the pantry is not nearly enough to distribute to each family using their services. She was recruited to volunteer by Thurman.
“We’ll get the big boxes and think, ‘Wow! We’ve got all these boxes of cereal!’,” Vanderbol said. “Then, you open it up and there are only 10 in a box. We ran out of cereal from our delivery last week.”
“We may be down to two cans of one or two kind of commodities by the time we receive our next delivery,” Boyd said, stressing it is the donations that help fill in the gap.
Boyd recalled one client this past spring who told the volunteers it would be her last time to visit the pantry.
“She got a job in Springfield and would be moving there with her husband,” Boyd said. “She was so grateful for (the pantry) helping them when they needed the help.
“She told us as soon as the couple was able, she would be happy to send a contribution to help us with the pantry.”
Thurman said the church has a prayer shawl ministry. Members make the shawls and pray over them before handing the shawls to clients.
“I feel the clients are so grateful for that, knowing we are there for them,” Thurman said.
Boyd’s husband said the volunteers start each day with a prayer, and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the ability to help the clients when each day ends.
Thurman said the volunteers make the ministry what it is today.
“They do whatever it is they can to help,” she said.
One particular volunteer Thurman wanted to thank was Gene Winch.
“He is our angel,” she said, explaining Winch travels to the Desloge Walmart and Proffer Produce each week to pick up the donated food items.
“He is just there, always ready to help when any of us call on him,” Thurman said.
The pantry is a reciprocal ministry, the three agreed. As much of a blessing the clients receive from the service provided, the volunteers say the people they meet bless their lives as well.
“We give out a lot of hugs,” said Boyd.
Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org