Local food giveaway programs feed the hungry through tough times

According to a report by the USDA, one in six people in the U.S. face hunger or “food insecurity.” The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of access to enough food for all household members.

Food insecure households are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they have insufficient money or other resources for food. According to the USDA, 12.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2016, essentially unchanged from 12.7 percent in 2015.

Longtime Lovell United Methodist Church Food Pantry volunteer Arlene Ross shows off a fully stocked shelf of food following a particularly large donation from an LDS ward food drive in Lovell. The pantry relies entirely on donations to feed hungry citizens during a time of need.
Patti Carpenter photo

Food insecure households obtain enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake by using a variety of coping strategies. Some of those strategies include eating a less varied diet, participating in federal food assistance programs (when eligible) or getting emergency food from their community food pantries.

The Lovell United Methodist Church Food Pantry and the Federal Commodities Program coordinated by St. John’s Lutheran Church are two distinct programs in the Lovell community that help fill those needs for food insecure households in the Lovell area and adjacent communities.

The idea of churches helping those in need is certainly not a new one or a concept unique to the Lovell community. According to Pastor Chris Brandt of St. John’s Lutheran Church, people have come to the door of his church for help on a fairly regular basis since he became pastor 21 years ago.
He said other church leaders he’s talked to have shared the same experience over the years and most churches in the area lend a hand to those in need, either through informal or formal programs. What’s changed over the years is the coordinated effort by local religious organizations, community members, businesses and others to see that those in need can be provided with supplemental food, he said.

Food Pantry

The food pantry is manned entirely by volunteers from the Methodist Church and relies on donations from its own congregation members, members of other congregations and others in the community wishing to lend a helping hand. It distributes food one day a week, on a no questions asked basis to those expressing a need.

“We take people at their word and I feel people are very truthful,” said longtime pantry volunteer Arlene Ross. “Most people don’t take more than is appropriate. They are respectful about that.”

Ross said many using the pantry are employed but only make enough money to pay rent. Often they are not eligible for government food programs. She said it’s not unusual for someone to come to the pantry for help temporarily due to an illness in the family, a temporary period of unemployment or some other life event that leaves them without enough money to buy food.

Pantry volunteer Susan Peck noted that there is no particular time of the year that is worse for people than another.

“Stuff happens all the time. That’s just the way life is,” said Peck. “People find themselves in a situation where they need help and they come to us barely making it sometimes. I think it’s good for us as a community to take care of our own. I feel really good about helping people in this way.”

The Methodist Food Pantry serves between 15 to 50 people in a given week. Households relying on the pantry for food sometimes have up to seven members.

Though donations come in on a regular basis, there are weeks that the shelves are almost empty, said Peck, noting a recent large donation of food by one of the LDS wards was a lifesaver for many relying on the program. Fresh produce and funds donated by the Lovell Community Garden in the past few years have also been a godsend. The fresh produce from the garden has provided more nutritional options.

“One thing we try to do is to give people a choice,” said Peck, noting that unlike a lot of other pantries, the Methodist Food Pantry allows people to pick out their own items. Peck said some of the more popular items are pancake mix, syrup, peanut butter and, of course, non-perishables like canned fruits and vegetables.

“When you think of donating, just think about what you’d like to eat,” said Peck. “Other people would probably like that, too.”

Donations can also be dropped off at the pantry or left in special barrels at the Red Apple Supermarket and the Family Dollar Store. The pantry also accepts cash donations, which are used to purchase items not often donated like bread. The food pantry is located at the Methodist Church and is open on Fridays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Commodities program

Pastor Brandt said the food commodities program is quite different than the pantry in that it is a federal program, with income requirements. He said the type of food offered varies, depending on what the church receives from the government.

“One time we got nothing but frozen catfish,” he said. “It really is different every time. Sometimes we get a lot. Sometimes we get hardly anything at all.”

The food commodity program doesn’t keep regular hours. Instead, an announcement is placed in the newspaper when food is available.

Brandt manages the program through St. John’s Lutheran Church.

“The people who utilize the commodity program can be different than those who come to the pantry to help,” explained Brandt. “Because it’s a federal program they have to meet income requirements and have to fill out paperwork to participate. We have a lot of elderly people participate in the commodities program.”

Brandt said people participate in the commodities program from neighboring communities like Frannie, Deaver, Byron, Cowley and even from as far away as Basin.

“Things have really changed a lot over the years,” said Brandt. “The entire community participates in these kinds of programs either as donors or recipients. Now businesses, the local fire department and many groups contribute on a regular basis. I think having established hours has brought in more people, and, by and large, the majority are truly in need of help. We’re just trying to help people get back on their feet.”

Both groups reported recipients becoming donors once their financial situation improved. Most churches in the community participate in helping the needy, either through their own programs or by donating to the food pantry.

“I know the Catholic Church has their own program, and I’m pretty sure most churches have programs of their own,” said Brandt.

Brandt said he believes that charitable work is one of the most fundamental activities of churches in the community, quoting from the Holy Bible:

“For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” – Matthew 25:35-36.

By Patti Carpenter

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