Food pantry retreat place to share lives and ideas

Food pantry retreat place to share lives and ideas
Teri Stein

Marty Skelton, a food pantry volunteer, performs an illusion with a $100 bill to get the attention of his audience at the retreat.

                        

It was a celebration of service for Greater Dover/New Philadelphia Food Pantry volunteers and members of the community dedicated to ending hunger when they met recently for a day-long retreat at Dutch Valley Restaurant in Sugarcreek.

The retreat also was a team-building event as everyone got the opportunity to know their fellow volunteers a little better.

Food pantry volunteer Jim Rice has a quick reply when someone tells him that working at the food pantry is not rocket science.

“My response is always, ‘That’s right; it’s a lot harder,’” Rice said.

Rice formerly did work as a rocket scientist and now does a variety of jobs at the pantry including ordering food and keeping data on such things as the number of household visits per week, cost of food per week and the number of pounds of food distributed per week.

The food pantry previously limited its clients to one time per month. Then they went to two times per month, and now visits to the pantry are unlimited. They found the change in policy made little difference in overall visits.

“With the help of a spread sheet and keeping track of everything, we found that when we were limiting people to twice a month, they came in just under five times a year. When we let it wide open, they came just under seven times,” Rice said.

In his research Rice said there are two reasons why people need to make use of the food pantry. The first is something bad has happened in a person’s life, like job loss or divorce.

“It’s something that throws people’s life into shambles. And then, all of a sudden, they can’t deal with everything they have to buy,” Rice said. “And so they come to the food pantry to fill in, but their life gets back on track.”

The second reason is some people find themselves in situations where they are unable to help themselves.

Rice told the story of one person who was on track for a nice retirement but then lost the income through no fault of their own. The family also dealt with some disabilities, adding to their problems.

“The situation wasn’t going to get better,” Rice said.

The person and their family member were unable to hold a job. “They would visit the pantry every other week. We are not creating a dependency. We’re what I call a life line. You’ve heard the analogy if you give a person a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Think of it this way: What happens if they can’t fish, somebody stole their fishing pole or they broke their arm or something? While they’re recuperating, we’re here. And then there are people who never can be taught to fish, and we’re here.”

Danae Labocki and Chad Crawford, co-founders of IMMIX Marketing, a company that specializes in helping nonprofits, spoke to the group.

“Our economy, with inflation and the war going on in Ukraine, a lot of our clients and a lot of people are feeling down,” Labocki said.

Many organizations rely on donations, and general donor giving is down.

“Some major donors are holding on to their gifts right now, going ‘what’s going to happen,’” Labocki said.

Labocki and Crawford highlighted building good relationships with volunteers and donors as one way to keep their organization strong. She also encouraged volunteers to tell the stories of those who have been impacted by using the food pantry.

Dan Flowers, CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, spoke on the changes seen in the past few years.

“We’re going through an economic period of great challenge right now,” Flowers said. “I think it’s re-entry. So, like, during a space mission, we’re in a pandemic. It’s like we’re in space. We’re isolated. We’re floating, free. But re-entry is a burning hot fire. And that’s what I think a lot of people are going through right now. And so for those of you that may be struggling in some way, with a kind of a return to life or re-entry, I love you. We love you.”

Everyone including organizations goes through changes, and one of the best ways to cope is to just keep going.

“I’m very proud of your work,” Flowers said. “I’m very proud of the work in the Greater Dover/New Philadelphia Food Pantry.”

The pandemic actually led to an increase in donations to the food bank and food pantries, which put them in a better position to help others. One important thing that fell by the wayside during the pandemic was client choice. The COVID-19 restrictions led to pantries prepacking boxes of food to give away, and this can lead to clients disposing of food they don’t want.

“Our network largely shifted away from client choice. And we’ve been preaching client choice for 25 years since I started at the food bank in ‘97. We’ve been telling agencies don’t make a premade bag. It’s kind of wasteful,” Flowers said.

The supply-chain issues that are affecting everyone also are affecting the food pantry. This has led to a decrease in the types of food available from the food bank.

Katie Carver Reed of Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank spoke of a program they are using through Door Dash. The company approached them about using their drivers to deliver food to those who are homebound, and Door Dash is paying their drivers who participate.

“They will pick up from the pantry and deliver it out, on average doing about 1,000 deliveries a month through our hunger-relief network,” Carver Reed said. “We heard from the drivers that they really liked it. They get paid more than they do on an average dash, which is cool. And then they just feel good about it.”

Food pantry volunteer Bill Fritz, who serves as treasurer of the local organization, told of how appreciative he is of the donations they receive. He is as grateful for the monthly $10 donations from one individual as he is the larger donations, many from anonymous.

To make things run more smoothly at the pantry, they have created the use of a scanner card.

“This way, once you get the card in their hand and they use it, it comes up to the same information every time, the same record. And that works so well also for our Hispanic community, because once I get a card into their hand, the communication barrier is lifted,” Fritz said.

Faster check-in and the use of registration booths just outside the pantry give the volunteers more time to converse with pantry users who want to connect.

“I’ve gotten to know so many of them on a personal basis. The person that walks up and says, ‘Oh, I almost didn’t make it here; I was going to my second chemo today,’ is the chance to speak with them, not just on the food issue, but on the God issue, on the healing, caring issue, and we find a lot of common ground,” Fritz said. “There are some people that walk through looking pretty rough, but we’ll find common ground. And when you find common ground, that’s building community, and community is so important.”

Fritz enjoyed the retreat, the chance to get together without dealing with the business of running the shelter. He enjoyed hearing about other’s lives and their visions.

“We’re different people from different walks of life and different communities together. So just getting to know more about who we are and why we are here is very fulfilling,” Fritz said.

The Greater Dover/New Philadelphia Food Pantry welcomes new volunteers. Visit www.greaterdover-newphiladelphiafoodpantry.com or call 330-852-4132.


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