Food pantry outgrowing current space
By ANDREW MCGINN
The local food pantry is already cramped, leading some clients to show up more than an hour and a half before the door opens.
There they wait — elderly women without pensions; those with jobs beset by serious illness or paying the price for a few bad decisions; single moms.
“We’re here to offer grace in food, not be judgmental,” said the Rev. Julie Poulsen, pastor at the First United Methodist Church and chair of the nondenominational food pantry board.
Should the federal government make good on threats to cut food stamps, the Greene County Christian Action Resource Center on East Harrison Street will become even more cramped.
And now the roof is leaking, too.
The volunteers in charge of the ARC are beginning to wonder if the time has come for a new building, and they recently sat down with The Jefferson Herald to discuss the future of the food pantry.
“The thinking,” Poulsen said of a new building, “is that we could share it with New Opportunities.”
Site manager Dianne Blackmer has counted at least five roof leaks in the ARC building. Ceiling tiles have already buckled.
“So far we haven’t had water on any of the food,” Blackmer said, “which makes us think the insulation is wet.”
The fear, of course, is that mold could form.
The ARC serves between 80 and 100 Greene County families every month. In September, that amounted to 239 individuals.
“People don’t realize how many people are in need,” Poulsen said.
Few of them barge through the door with a sense of entitlement.
“We’ve had people in tears because they really did not want to be here,” Blackmer said.
“The first time,” Poulsen added, “is traumatic, because you really have to swallow your pride.”
What they’re entitled to is some meat and a premade bag of groceries — a few canned goods, pancake mix and a box of saltines, among other staples.
The ARC also has clothes and household goods they’re free to take.
“Those go out almost as fast as we put them out,” Blackmer said.
Clients are only allowed to visit the pantry once a month after first seeking a voucher from New Opportunities across town. The pantry is only open Wednesday mornings.
“Because of the generosity of this county,” Poulsen said, “we have been able to serve everyone.”
The ARC was established in 1991, Blackmer said, after “clergy recognized that people were going from church to church to church looking for help.”
A new facility, they say, would allow the ARC to expand services at a time when need is great and growing.
They’re careful not to enable the poor, Poulsen said, but they would rather empower them.
A larger space would allow the ARC to hold classes on everything from budgeting to food prep.
A food preparation class would give clients valuable tips on what to do with some of the fresh seasonal produce, in particular.
“We do get some vegetables nobody knows what the heck to do with them,” Poulsen said.
One man, Blackmer said, recently picked up a turnip at the pantry and commented that he’d never seen an onion that big.
The kohlrabi — a kind of cabbage with an edible stem — may as well have been from another planet.
A larger facility would also make the food pantry more user-friendly.
Currently, clients are handed a bag of groceries, whether they like refried beans or not. A larger facility, Poulsen said, would enable clients to pick from the canned goods they know they’re actually going to consume.
The ARC itself has never gone without.
If a call for meat goes out, 100 pounds of donated meat will come in.
“If we put out a cry for something,” Poulsen said, “it comes in.”
Whether that goodwill now extends to a new building remains to be seen.