(PHOTO: Volunteers working for the United Methodist Food Pantry load up boxes of food for Itawamba’s needy families. The group recently distributed its 1-millionth pound of food since its founding in 1998. -photo by Adam Armour)
By ADAM ARMOUR
In only nine years, Itawamba County has gained one million pounds.
This tremendous weight gain can be attributed to the United Methodist Food Pantry, an organization dedicated to helping struggling Itawambians out of hunger. The group recently distributed its 1-millionth pound of food, a milestone that has been in the making since the organization’s formation by Rev. Ray Stokes in 1998.
Harvey Clements, who serves as co-director of the Food Pantry with James Price, credits the program’s success to the devotion of its founder, Rev. Ray Stokes.
“We’re just continuing something that Ray Stokes started,” Clements said. “I’m just spring boarding off something he [began].”
The organization, operating entirely under generous hands of volunteers, distributes between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of food on the third weekend of each month to approximately 320 families. Each individual family receives an amount of food determined by the number of people in the family: A red box for families with two members or fewer and a green box for those with four or more. Families can receive more than one box of food depending upon the number of members.
Each box of food contains a variety of food products, determined by what products the Food Pantry could obtain from its various food providers. Typical boxes contain meat products, cereal, soups, vegetables, peanut butter and various canned goods.
“[The content] varies, but we try to balance it out,” Clements said, adding that the group always tries to include some dessert products into the package.
What goes into a package varies according to availability from food providers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the group with an assorted variety of free food each month. This is supplemented by ordering food from the Memphis Food Bank, which charges for its services, but not for the actual food products.
Food is stored at the old Fulton Grammar School cafeteria, where it is distributed each month to families that qualify for the Food Pantry’s services. Families are accepted into the program based on a variety of factors, including family size and income.
Although the group operates under the manpower of volunteers, they gratefully accept donations from various organizations. United Way makes annual donations of $10,000 to the group, and various companies from the county help out as well.
Clements commented that the Food Pantry operates solely on the generosity of the community, stating that he has never been told “no” when seeking donations. Whether it be food, money or time, Itawamba County has been very generous in aiding the Food Pantry’s cause.
“This is a community thing — I can’t stress that enough,” Clements said. “It’s a reach-out to help the needy and a way for people to give.”
Although they see some familiar faces, many of the people who take advantage of the Food Pantry’s services are coping with some temporary struggle — such as unemployment — and simply need a little help to make ends meet.
“You don’t see the same people all the time,” Clements said. “Though you do see some of the same ones because they are on a fixed income, and they absolutely don’t have any other way [to get food].”
Food Pantry volunteers distribute food on the third Saturday of each month, a time specifically chosen as the most helpful to families on fixed incomes.
“We try to hit them when things are getting [bad],” Clements said. “If they get their checks at the beginning of the month, we try to help them in between checks.”
Clements stressed that, although the Food Pantry operates out of the Methodist Church, its aid is non-denominational. People from all divisions of life are welcome to use the Food Pantry’s services or donate time to help the group’s cause.
To Clements, the group has proven to be a wonderful way to bring people together for a loving cause. He attributes the program’s one-million pounds of success to the fundamental Christian values held by the group.
“The Bible tells us to love our brothers, neighbors and sisters,” Clements said. “I think that if we have people in this county who are in need, then we have an obligation [to help them]. If you’re hungry, we’re going to try to help you.”