Andy Seibert, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, helped carry the bags and boxes, loading them into the trunk of no-nonsense volunteer Bea Simmonds’ car.
The Flowery Branch United Methodist parishioner waved away questions, more interested in getting the show on the road; the food pantry’s provisions were bound for families whose shelves lay largely bare, and she didn’t have time to stand around and chat.
The South Hall Community Food Pantry, in its loaned shed behind Oakwood First United Methodist Church, is tidy by necessity. The reconditioned storage building has barely enough room for its neatly stacked contents and the volunteers who fill shopping bags according to family size. But with additional storage in a second attached building, it works.
Even though space is at a premium, the food pantry, which opened to the public in 2005, has helped to make the elderly, the un- and underemployed, the disabled and the homeless a bit less anxious about choosing between paying for utilities, medications or food.
“Thanks to our community, SHCFP (has) distributed over 47,956 pounds of food in 2013,” said Carol Williams, pantry treasurer. Of the pantry’s 1,262 family visits in 2013 — representing more than 4,000 people — 419 were by those who had not been to the pantry since 2010, Williams said. And, of those served, more than 1,500 were younger than 18.
“There has been an increase in our average monthly numbers,” Williams added, “since food stamps were cut in October. In 2014, we are also concerned that the rising cost of health insurance, in conjunction with (the) cut in food stamps, may lead more families to our doors.”
According to Williams, a statistical analysis of pantry use conducted by two University of North Georgia students, found that from 2009 to 2012 the average family size served by the food pantry was four, with an approximate average of 1.25 visits.
The pantry’s vision is “to feed the hungry in Hall County, Ga. in mind, body and spirit,” states its website.
But, Williams said, the ministry is a stopgap, not a permanent service.
“The times we’re open is based upon when others aren’t open,” she said.
The pantry is run as a community service project, originally comprising church volunteers from St. Gabriel’s Episcopal, Oakwood First United Methodist and Christ Lutheran.
The Springs Church, East Lanier Community Church, Flowery Branch United Methodist and McEver United Methodist now all consider the pantry a ministry as well. In addition, Williams said, the Flowery Branch High School softball team offers support, and pantry organizers are grateful for proceeds from an annual University of North Georgia foreign film series.
“A number of groups do food drives,” said Williams.
Home Depot and Roberts Brothers Custom Cabinets donated time and materials as the need for better preparation and storage space loomed large, and Ingles supermarket provides paper bags for the collected food and essentials.
Those who donate money to the ministry can be assured it will be well spent.
“For every dollar donated,” Williams said, “we can purchase $6.25 worth of food items from Georgia Mountain Food Bank.”
And, Williams said, since the food bank opened, “We’ve seen a significant cost drop.”
In 2012, the pantry spent $17,000 on food.
“Since using the food bank,” she said, “not only have the pantry’s (food) options become more diverse, but the ministry’s food spending has dropped about $5,000. Every dollar the pantry spends at the food bank equates to between $6 and $7 compared to the open market.”
South Hall Community Food Pantry needs more volunteers in addition to donations of food and money, Williams said.
Reviewing photos taken over the years, the pantry treasurer said she is reminded how fortunate it is to have a number of volunteers who have been a part of the ministry for a long time.
“As an all-volunteer organization,” Williams said, “we could not do it without them.”
To learn more about the South Hall Food Pantry, or how you might support its ministry, visit www.shcfp.org.