By Linda Cooper
With Christmas approaching, volunteers at the Millington food pantry, located in the First United Methodist Church at 8029 Wilkinsville Road, are busy gathering food items for the creation of 300 holiday baskets to be distributed to those in need in the community.
Gail Delancey, a volunteer and manager of the food pantry notes there is already a long waiting list for those slated to receive baskets. The food pantry serves families within the 38053 zip code, as well as the Northaven community, as children from the area attend Millington schools
Charles Pack, a volunteer who attends Forestview Church of Christ near Shelby Forest, says he has noticed an increase in persons who need help making ends meet. He notes many working people have seen their hours reduced so their employers will not have to provide them with health insurance, a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Delancey says she has noticed need slowly increasing since 2009, shortly after the economic downturn. “Most of the people we see are working families just like you and me who simply need a helping hand.” Last year, the pantry helped feed more than 4,000 people in the community.
To be eligible to receive assistance from the food pantry, persons must first complete a client eligibility form at the Millington Crisis Center, located just down the street from the pantry at 8130 Wilkinsville Road. Persons must meet specific income criteria as established by the state of Tennessee. Those who receive assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are automatically eligible.
The pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. However, persons are limited to four visits to the pantry. “As much as we like to help, we simply can’t afford to be everyone’s grocery store on an ongoing basis. But, we would never turn away someone who is hungry,” Delancey explains.
According to volunteer and retired nurse Rosalind Finton, upon each visit to the pantry, persons receive three bags of groceries designed to facilitate several meals. There is a special effort to provide additional food for families, particularly those with children. The bags include canned vegetables, soups, beans, meat, and juice, as well as breads, fresh eggs and produce when available. She “shops” the pantry putting the bags together.
Much of the food in the pantry comes from the Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis as the Millington food pantry is a disbursing agency partner.
Delancey, who has been overseeing the pantry for about five years outlines the process. On Tuesday evenings she is able to see what items are available at the food bank and places her order online for the following week. Thursdays are her busiest days, when she can pick up her items as well as “shop” the Mid-South Food Bank for additional items, everything is seven cents a pound, which covers handling costs. Some items are also provided free by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but records are required to be kept regarding the distribution of those items.
On Thursdays, her day begins at 6:45 a.m., as shopping at the food bank is done on a first-come, first-serve basis and she is given approximately 30 minutes to shop. She is thrilled that thus far, she has been able to secure 80 turkeys for her Christmas baskets. Due to limited storage in the Millington pantry, the turkeys are being stored in various volunteer families’ freezers throughout Millington.
In addition to the food bank, Delancey also makes stops at the Millington Kroger and Save-A-:Lot grocery stores, as both stores donate their overstocked items to the pantry. “It’s a walk of love every Thursday,” she says.
Begun more than 25 years ago, while the pantry is housed in First United Methodist Church and a line item is included in the church’s budget to assist the pantry in fulfilling its mission, Delancey stresses that the pantry is a community-wide effort.
In addition to the grocery store donations, the chaplaincy at the Naval Support Activity Mid-South provides a substantial monetary donation to the pantry. Several other groups and individuals also contribute monetarily. Further, St. William’s Catholic Church and St. Anne’s Episcopal Church have taken an active role through volunteering and food drive donations.
Pack notes support has come throughout the year from other food drives including the Boy Scouts, the “Red Ribbon” drive in Northaven which donated 600 cans, “Cans for Kids” which encompasses all of the schools in the city of Millington, Lucy, Woodstock, E.E. Jeter and Northaven which donated 3,000 pounds of food items, and the U.S. Letter Carriers Food Drive conducted by the Millington post office which brought in more than a ton of food items.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the pantry is staffed by two volunteers who help stock the pantry shelves and prepare the grocery bags for distribution, and on Thursdays, as many as five volunteers help unload the food items gathered from the food bank and grocery stores.
As examples of how just one or two people can make a real difference, during the growing season, fresh produce for the pantry comes from the garden of Ray and Bonita Dunavant. In addition, a retired Millington school teacher provides all of the powdered milk distributed from the pantry, and on a daily basis community residents drop off items for distribution. On a recent Wednesday, an elderly retiree dropped off a case of canned corn.
Witnessing how these contributions translate into helping others, on that same Wednesday, an elderly lady named Ruby came to the pantry. She related how she had worked in the health care field for many years, but is now unable to work as she suffers from debilitating health issues. Receiving assistance from the pantry she says, “It’s a blessing, a true blessing.”
While the pantry has stocked items from recent food drives, more is still needed for the Christmas baskets, as well as for daily needs. For the baskets, the pantry needs cake mixes and sugar to offer persons a treat during the holiday season. On an ongoing basis, the pantry is always in need of boxed pasta and potatoes as well as ramen noodles. Other items that are rare in the pantry include coffee, tea and canned milk. Monetary donations are also welcome as dollars can be stretched far through purchases from the Mid-South Food Bank.
Despite the ongoing and growing need in the community, Delancey says, “Almost on cue, I know God will come through. He has never let me down.”
For more information about the food pantry or to offer assistance, contact Gail Delancey at 872-4414 or email the church at email@example.com.