Church Food Pantry Serves Growing Need

Client David Pittman, left, helps Five Forks Brethren in Christ Church Food Pantry Volunteer John MIller load groceries into his vehicle. NANCY MACE

Members of a local church are living up to a promise to extend God’s grace to others.

“He’s blessed us so we want to bless them,” said Brad Sell, director of the food pantry at Five Forks Brethren in Christ Church, Waynesboro. And Sell’s group of volunteers, which serve clients in the Waynesboro Area and Greencastle-Antrim school districts, is busier than ever. “Last year at this time we helped 184 clients. This September the number was 288 and the total number of individuals served was 882,” he added. “The group of 30 to 40 tremendous and dedicated volunteers is almost all retirees.”

Food purchased from or donated by Central PA Food Bank as well as donations from local farmers, grocery stores and other businesses is packed into bags for clients, who pick them up once a month from noon to 1:30 Mondays and Fridays and 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays. In addition to the bags full of staples and frozen meat, the food pantry distributes donations from local farmers, grocery stores and other businesses, including produce, baked goods, frozen meals, coffee, bread, cakes and snacks, yogurt, deli sandwiches, paper goods, personal hygiene items, beverages and fresh fruit, as available.

Volunteers even load the bags into a client’s car. “We started this during COVID, which then was by appointment only, and it worked so well we have continued to do it this way,” according to Sell.

The food pantry has been a part of the church’s outreach since at least 1991, noted Sell. “It started as a ministry that is beneficial to the community and it still is.”

“We expanded our space to approximately 3,000 square feet by rearranging an area. That was needed to allow for more space for the food. And we bought two new freezers, two 3-door cooler refrigeration units with glass fronts that are 8 feet long each, and a 20-foot walk-in cooler. The amount of food we have been given is increasing, especially the produce from area farmers and that’s why we got the walk-in cooler.  Grant money from Central PA Food Bank helped us to make these purchases.”

To meet the demand, volunteers are out in the community, soliciting food donations from area businesses. “For instance, if a cow dies, the farmer will donate the cow and all we have to do is pay to get it processed. And we receive lots and lots of produce. A local farm donates two to three pallets of produce per week … corn, squash, cucumbers … tremendous amounts of food.” A local provider also contributes free eggs to the pantry.

The church is challenged with meeting an increasing need, according to Sell. “We budgeted $11,000 for the food pantry to operate this year and already have spent $20,000. Unfortunately, in the last 4 to 6 months, the prices from the food bank have been going up. We think it’s due to better inventory control at corporations, for instance selling products to ‘scratch and dent’ stores, rather than donating it. And the USDA’s program offering free milk, cheese, butter and canned goods, etc. has been reduced significantly. We ask parishioners to donate specific items, but if we don’t get enough, we have to buy them.”

Food drives often yield items that the church cannot use,” Sell noted. “We have to sort it and throw away expired items … there is a lot of labor involved. Cash donations are better because we can buy wholesale, extend our dollars by controlling the purchases.”

Inflation certainly has exacerbated the problem, according to Sell, “and with gas going up, etc., and more people moving into the area … ”

Being the largest food pantry in Franklin County, Sell is grateful the organization is able to provide a service to the community that is “first rate and of tremendous value to families. Our clients tell us we have the best selection of food of any food pantry in the area. The product we have been able to give has greatly improved as far as nutritional value, because of the relationship we have with farmers in the area.”

If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity, Sell said the pantry is in need of drivers to pick up donations. “That’s where we need help. It’s a big task  and they start early in the morning.” To volunteer, call Sell at 240-675-9478.

“We do expect to get busier and hope to serve as many clients as we can,” Sell added. “This is something Jesus has asked us to do and we’re happy to do it.”

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