By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
CAREY — Wednesdays are busy at Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Carey.
Pastors who are part of Carey Ecumenical Charities meet with people in need of financial assistance or counseling, while the Clothing Closet offers free clothes.
And down in the basement, the Carey Food Pantry provides food for people who live in the Carey School District.
“There’s something going on in every room in the church on Wednesday,” said Carol Robison, a church member who also serves as secretary of the food pantry.
The pantry celebrated 30 years in the community in 2013. Volunteers come together from four churches in town to help others, last year providing for 1,010 families, including 2,082 adults and 1,024 children.
“We’re fortunate to live in a little town that cares about the less fortunate in the community, and they do or we would not have the success that we have down here,” said Jo Ella Sturgill.
A member of Free Will Baptist Church in Carey, Sturgill got involved with the pantry in 1995.
“Our pastor wanted us to do something and get out in the community,” she recalled.
Sturgill said one of her earliest memories of volunteering at the pantry involved a mother and her young daughter who came in for food.
“The little girl looked up at her mom and she said, ‘Mama, all I want is a glass of milk.’ It broke my heart. I thought this is where I need to be,” she said.
The pantry got its start in 1983 with grant money from the Department of Human Services and the help of Sister Joyce Hoile from Our Lady of Consolation Church and Jeanette Boyce, who later served as pantry director.
“They say the economy is improving, but we don’t see it here,” said Robison, who has volunteered since the early 1990s.
The pantry operates throughout the year. Almost from the start, Memorial United Methodist Church, 229 W. Findlay St., offered a place for the pantry.
The pantry receives no federal funds now, instead operating on donations from individuals, service clubs, churches, schools and food drives.
Donations can be brought to the church from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. Volunteers use that time to restock shelves and fill empty baby food jars with small amounts of dish detergent and shampoo for the people who have fewer family members.
There are 12 regular volunteers. Besides Robison and Sturgill, they include Lorane Coldiron, Brenda Caudill, Bill and Rebecca Mahan, Ann Hartenstein, Mary Jane Reinhart, Ruth Ealey, Ella Ree Smith, Sue Ealey and Sturgill’s husband, Darrell. Churches represented are Memorial United Methodist, Free Will Baptist, Our Lady of Consolation and Christ Lutheran.
“We like working with all the different denominations. It’s enjoyable,” said Rebecca Mahan.
Volunteers eat lunch together before the pantry opens at 1:30 p.m. Help is offered three times every two months, said Robison, and all records are confidential.
“… Nobody leaves here without food,” she said. “If it’s somebody that comes from another school district and they need food, we’ll give them food that day.”
Those people are also given contact information for a food pantry in their own area.
The amount of food received is based on the size of the family. The pantry provides the basics like meat, vegetables, fruit, baked beans, macaroni and cheese and cereal, while vouchers are given for milk, bread and eggs which can be redeemed at Frederick’s IGA, Carey.
The most needed items include cereal, boxed potatoes, Hamburger Helper, paper products, dish soap, shampoo and empty baby food jars.
When those items are in low supply, Sturgill makes a copy of the list which is included in Carey church bulletins.
The volunteers said they never know how many people to expect from one week to the next.
“There’s very cold days when you think nobody will come, and we’re busy,” said Hartenstein.
Special food boxes are given on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Registration is required in advance. In 2013, the pantry provided holiday meals for 60 families at Easter, 113 families at Thanksgiving and 125 families at Christmas.
“All year we kind of collect stuff to put in the boxes,” said Hartenstein, a volunteer since 2007.
When the pantry receives donations from the annual Boy Scout and letter carriers’ food drives, items like toothpaste and toothbrushes are kept back to put in the Christmas boxes, she said.
An organization in town also gave money to purchase candy for the boxes. And members of the Kiwanis Club collected nearly $2,500 for the pantry last Christmas.
“I’ll tell you, people are so generous,” Robison said.
Frederick’s IGA works with the pantry to provide good prices on meat, said Sturgill. However, volunteers also watch for sales on needed items at other stores so the money can be spent wisely.
Most people are grateful for the help, they said.
“With the cut in food stamps (in January), we have really seen more people who come in and say, ‘I just need some help to get through,'” said Sturgill. “One person said they took $50 off their food stamps. She said, ‘You know, that’s a week’s worth of groceries.'”
“I look for it to get worse,” she said.
For the past three summers, the pantry has also sponsored a Feed the Children program for school-age children, said Penny Magee, pastor at Memorial and Grace United Methodist churches in Carey. For two years, lunch was offered once a week. The program was increased to two meals a week last summer.
“We had about 30 a day,” Magee said.
“We had all ages, too, which I was surprised at. We had middle schoolers and high schoolers as well as the young kids,” she said.
Sturgill said last summer was especially hard as many residents sought help.
“We were overwhelmed with people. Every week it seemed like 20, 30, 35 families would come in. And we knew that we had Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up and that takes a lot of money to do,” she said.
A savings account is maintained in case the freezer or refrigerator breaks down, and to pay for vouchers each month. Sturgill had to take money out of the account to purchase food for those who needed help last summer.
But somehow it always works out, she noted.
“In October when our funds were so low, we were all worried,” she said. “But within a week’s time, all that money that I took out all summer came back plus more, so God wants us here.”
“Somebody always comes through to help,” added Robison. “It’s amazing.”
Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf
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