For an organization that’s based in what its director describes as “basically a large closet,” has an impact far greater than one might expect.
“Food is not going to save anyone,” said Audrey Bell, the food bank’s director and chief volunteer. “We’re trying to lend a helping hand to families in need.”
Located in space donated by Eureka United Methodist Church, the food bank serves an average of 100 to 115 families a month who live in Eureka and the surrounding area. Clients are asked to provide proof of residence when they visit. The food bank depends solely on donations.
“We get most of our food donations from the food drives held by the Boy Scouts and by in the fall, and donations of personal care items by the Girl Scouts each spring,” Bell said. “We rely on individual donations the rest of the year.”
All cash donations to the food pantry are used to buy meat.
Clients are eligible to receive food once a month. A typical “bag” is designed to feed a family of four and includes canned fruits and vegetables, soups, canned meat or tuna, peanut butters, noodles and pasta, and canned meals. The staff tries to include “bonus items,” such as baking ingredients, cake mixes and snacks when they’re available.
Despite efforts to provide a balanced menu, Bell noted that some items are always in short supply, including jelly, spaghetti sauce, chili, beans and canned white potatoes. Unlike most area food banks, the Eureka food pantry accepts food in glass jars. Food donations can be left at the Eureka United Methodist Church, and checks can be made to the church with the notation “food pantry.”
While some clients only need assistance for a month or two, others require help over a longer term, Bell said. Over the years she said she also has witnessed a shift in the typical family who visits the food pantry. “Originally, it was just parents with children,” she said. “Now, we’re seeing more combined families—including grandparents, or aunts and uncles—family members that have moved in together to save money.”
The pantry almost closed in the 1990s when its original sponsor disbanded. Volunteers kept the organization running. About 50 people, including Bell, now donate their time to collect, sort and distribute food. In addition to space, the church also donates record-keeping and other services.
The food pantry represents a long-term commitment for Bell and other volunteers. To ease scheduling and turnover problems, all volunteers are asked to make a one-year commitment to serve. “Because it’s a one-year commitment, volunteers tend to change very slowly,” Bell said. She started volunteering at the pantry originally by substituting for a friend, steadily donating more time as her own family needs changed.
The food pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Bell would like to be able to open additional days depending on getting more volunteers.