Keeping Them Fed Interfaith Food Pantry Assists Providence Place Residents
By Jennifer Kirby
Special to The Pilot
Lynn Hopler never envisioned herself needing the assistance of a food pantry. But when her marriage of 25 years ended in divorce, and she couldn't find work despite a master's degree, her finances and her options quickly dwindled.
After moving 10 times in 12 years - downsizing each time - she moved last year to Providence Place in Aberdeen, an affordable housing community for senior adults that's affiliated with St. Joseph of the Pines.
Although she now considers it the best move she ever made, at first "I cried for three weeks," she says. "No one expects to be poor. It's just not how we thought life would turn out."
Moving to Providence Place meant rent was manageable, but she still struggled to stretch her grocery budget.
"Somebody eventually told me I could go and get free food [at a food pantry]," Hopler says. "I went to a church and did that."
As Hopler developed relationships with other residents of Providence Place, she came to realize she wasn't the only one having trouble getting enough to eat. Unlike her, though, many of her elderly neighbors were confined to their homes. And many food pantries stipulate that "if you don't physically walk in, you don't get food," she says. "But just because somebody becomes housebound, they don't quit eating."
Hopler started seeking a solution.
Through Page Memorial United Methodist Church in Aberdeen, one of many local churches that sponsor food pantries, Hopler got connected with Marie Lomac, a volunteer director of Interfaith Food Pantry on Knight Street.
"Lynn ... wanted to know what was needed for the residents of Providence Place to get food," Lomac says. "I told her: name, photo ID, address and income."
Working with volunteer Dave Fish, Hopler gathered all of that, plus permission slips for Fish to pick up the food and deliver it to Providence Place. Fifty-nine of the 70 residents signed up.
The arrangement runs remarkably smoothly. Food distribution is once every 30 days per household, according to pantry policy. On Monday of the designated week, Hopler calls Interfaith to confirm pickup. Volunteers label the bags and pack the nonperishables on Tuesday; produce, bread, cold products and frozen meat are added just before pickup. On Thursday, Fish - taking a personal vacation day from work - and other volunteers load up his van, take the food to Providence Place and deliver it from door to door.
The food Interfaith distributes comes from Sandhills Food Bank, which is part of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Lomac and Lou Deluca, both of whom have been involved with the pantry since it opened eight years ago, go "shopping" at the food bank every week. Some of the food - including most of what's donated by local grocery stores - is free. For the rest, Interfaith pays 18 cents per pound.
A variety of churches, civic organizations and private individuals, especially local gardeners, give food to Interfaith as well. Because pantries can buy food so inexpensively from the food bank, monetary donations typically go further than donations of food, Lomac says, "but if people want to give food I never turn it down."
The Sandhills branch of the food bank serves 136 nonprofit agencies, primarily in Moore, Lee, Scotland and Richmond counties. Interfaith, with 60 volunteers, serves residents of Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Taylortown, Addor, Jackson Hamlet and Pinebluff - about 500 families each month.
The policy is that people are allowed to pick up food once every 30 days. The reality is that "if they're a few days early because they ran short, we're going to give it to them," Lomac says. "People have to eat, and that's what we're there to do: feed them."
Predictably, the current economic state has only increased demand.
"We're seeing a lot more unemployed people and couples that both work but still can't make ends meet," Lomac says. "A lot of our people are elderly, and a lot of them are raising grandchildren, so there are a lot of children involved, too."
Trying to make sure no one goes hungry while making sure help goes only to the truly needy is a delicate balance, she acknowledges.
"You're going to find people that know how to use the system," she says. "Some of them are third- or fourth-generation welfare, but eventually they hang themselves. We have the right to question them, and we have the right to refuse to give them food."
Ultimately, she added, Interfaith errs on the side of trust.
"Our motto is, if they come and get the food and they need it, we've done what the Lord asks," Lomac says. "If they take the food and don't need it, that's between them and the Lord. We still have done what he asks."
Hopler can't say enough for Interfaith and its willingness to serve the Providence Place community.
"Interfaith does it all, and I think that's amazing," she says. "[The other residents] all say, 'Oh, Lynn, God sent you here so we could eat.' And then, it's funny, they backpedal - they don't want to say God made you poor! But maybe that's not such a bad thing.
"To have enough to eat for the first time in five years is marvelous. We are all really, really thankful."
Jennifer Kirby is a local freelance writer.
More like this story