Kent County churches join war on hunger

DOVER — Fortunate people don’t worry about an empty stomach for themselves or their loved ones. And many, in the spirit of giving, will donate ample food during the holiday season, and that’s great.
For others, the pangs for nourishment are relentless and feeding one’s hunger is a daily need year-round.Church-based food pantry organizers in Dover are wary of the drop-off in charity after the first of the year, and the months that follow.

Simply put, hunger doesn’t lessen even when the spirit to give fades until the next holiday season.

Volunteers Joe and Midge McLaughlin of Dover help bag food items for the needy inside Holy Cross Church pantry.

Volunteers Joe and Midge McLaughlin of Dover help bag food items for the needy inside Holy Cross Church pantry.

 

“I think that people forget that we give out food all year long,” said Kathy Lessard of the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, who works with more than 30 parishioners to keep the church pantry stocked each week.

Holy Cross, at 631 S. State St., gives out a week’s worth of food from 2 to 3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday to those referred from the state and other churches in the Kent Ecumenical Food and Crisis Fund network.

Ms. Lessard, who has been involved with the program for 20 years, said she joined a Holy Cross food network that existed for several decades before she arrived.

Her joy in providing for others hasn’t abated since then.

“Being able to give food to people, everyone relates to that,” she said. “Everyone relates to being hungry to whatever extent they feel that is.

“It is a basic need and blessing for all of us who work at the pantry to satisfy the need of a family that comes in.”

As of mid-December, Holy Cross had served 1,117 families — including 2,504 adults and 1,126 children — in 2014.

While all food is much appreciated, Ms. Lessard said, “The families who receive food are always most appreciative of fresh and canned meat. Those items are expensive for us to buy and not always available.”

At Dover’s First Baptist Church at 301 Walker Road, the distributions are held on Tuesday and Thursday, from 1:30 to 2 p.m.

Calls for assistance and the screening process run on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Calvary Assembly of God at 1141 E. Lebanon Road.

Also participating in distributions is Mount Carmel Church of The Living God at 117 N. West St. in Dover.

High visibility hunger
First Baptist congregants receive grocery bags with food requests the second Sunday of each month. On the following Sunday, the bags can be returned filled with the listed items.

Food pantry coordinator Willie Case said members have been quite responsive throughout the year.

“We have a very giving congregation,” he said.

John Maraist of Dover puts another turkey in the freezer in the Holy Cross Church pantry.

John Maraist of Dover puts another turkey in the freezer in the Holy Cross Church pantry.

By the switch of a calendar into a new year, however, thoughts of providing for the hungry begin to drop. Mr. Case said a proactive approach to soliciting donations from civic organizations and private contributors is maintained to offset the tendency.

“As the holidays end, there’s a need to keep reminding people and groups that hunger is something that doesn’t go away,” Mr. Case said. “You have to make sure it stays on people’s minds because they tend to forget.”

At Calvary Assembly, Pastor Roland Coon interacts with members and regularly weaves hunger-related issues into his sermons, Benevolence Director Margaret Young said. The push is for those in the fast-growing 1,800-member congregation to donate one to two cans of food per week, she said.

“There’s continuously high visibility put on hunger issues,” she said.

When the food pantry debuted shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Young said two members were needed to administer what was needed. Now, she said, 51 volunteers are currently working it and the increase in needs has grown rapidly in the past five years.

In November, Ms. Young said 787 people were served, along with 1,658 Thanksgiving dinners provided. It also receives food from the Delaware Food Bank for 125 senior citizens monthly.

The increase in demand has put strain on the church’s pantry that’s lovingly called the “food closet,” Ms. Young said, and funds are needed to double its size.

Critical needs continue

The need is especially critical in the summer, when many leave the area for vacations and might not be as connected to the needs of others, officials said.

In 2013, First Baptist served 364 families including 803 people (482 adults, 381 children) over 12 months. Most of the recipients were one-time visitors, Mr. Case said.

Also distributed were 25 turkey dinners each at Thanksgiving and Christmas, complete with mashed potatoes, stuffing and traditional fare. Cake mix and icing are shared at Christmas, pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving.

Holy Cross Church pantry volunteer Tim Tearl of Dover helps out  setting up a table of food items.

Holy Cross Church pantry volunteer Tim Tearl of Dover helps out setting up a table of food items.

The families served received enough food to last a week, with the contents designed by a Faith Baptist nutritionist to promote healthy and balanced eating.

According to Mr. Case, a care package includes cereal, instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter (including jelly if children are involved), macaroni and cheese, luncheon meats (Spam and tuna), gelatin mix, applesauce, fruit cocktail, canned fruit, bread, margarine, hot dogs, cans of soup and vegetables, a can of frozen juice concentrate, baked beans, rice, a can of spaghetti and other items.

Families of three or more receive beef stew and boxes of spaghetti and sauce, along with a box of pudding mix, Mr. Case said.

Recipients are referred from the James W. Williams State Service Center under the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. Also, area churches can refer needy individuals or families to the pickup sites.

Recovery is slow
For the past three years or so, Mr. Case said there’s been an increase in demand due to a still shaky economic recovery, employment concerns and rising price of food.

“I’m not sure the economy has come back quite as much as some say it has,” Mr. Case said. “We still see a lot of people who are challenged by the times we are living in at the moment.”

Ms. Lessard said not all who need food are clearly destitute or seen as needing help, at least from an outsider’s quick view.

“Some people drive up in nice cars, which doesn’t always mean they are in great shape,” she said. “Often there has been a job loss, including some losing a high-paying job and now aren’t doing so well.”

The need for help in finding food will continue to trend upward, Ms. Young said, until government can curb lack of housing, substance abuse, lack of jobs, education and training, and other societal ills.

“Until the government can get things headed the right way, people are going to struggle,” she said.

The sudden loss of a job or underemployment can quickly throw a family into needy situations never imagined, Ms. Young said.

“We’re seeing good people who worked hard and paid bills, gave to charities and did all the right things now having to ask for help,” she said.

Until that help arrives from somewhere else, Calvary Assembly is obligated to do what it can.

“We at the church see ourselves as having a (mission) to take care of the community while we carry out God’s plan for the world,” Ms. Young said.

Other churches in the Kent Ecumenical Food and Crisis Network include Presbyterian Church of Dover, Dover Calvary Baptist, Christ Episcopal, Centerpoint, Holy Cross, St. John’s Lutheran, Hope United Methodist, Deep Water, Grace Presbyterian, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal, People’s Church, Wesley United Methodist, Wyoming United Methodist, St. Andrew’s Lutheran and the Delaware State University congregation.

Cooking turkey soup
Saying the area’s 47 faith communities have “just scratched the surface” of what can be done to help the hungry, Herb Konowitz said the ongoing concerns are key for those hoping to regain their overall stability. Mr. Konowtiz is the vice chairman of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing.

“If you’re starving, there’s not much else you can do,” he said. “You have to have sustenance to produce enough energy to pursue other things in life such as getting and keeping a job, training for a new career and performing basic functions to keep moving ahead.”

A few weeks before Christmas at the Dover Interfaith, United Way of Delaware team members spent time concocting 80 quarts of turkey noodle soup to be frozen for use when needed.

Under Cold Purple conditions, food and shelter are made available at several city sanctuaries when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Taking a quick break outside the kitchen, Kaitlyn de Wit of United Way said her grandmother’s thick-based soup recipe brought back memories of her own childhood, and would provide quite a relief for those experiencing hungry winter months.

“Everyone needs food, water and a place to stay,” she said. “If I can accomplish providing at least one of those needs each day, then it’s been a good day for me.”

Standing nearby was United Way’s Tierra Fair, involved in her first big project after beginning work just six weeks ago. In general terms, she said, curbing hunger had a multitude of benefits beyond the next meal.

“It’s so amazing to see how resilient people are,” she said. “For us it’s just turkey soup, but for others it makes a difference in going out and being able to live for tomorrow.

“When it comes to hunger for children, food can put a smile on their face. If they’re hungry they can’t be expected to be their best in school and learn how to become productive citizens in the future.

“One of the ways to make sure they have a chance to succeed is to make sure they are well fed.”

State’s holistic approach
While evaluating food applicants for referral on a daily basis, interviews conducted at the Williams State Service Center in Dover also assess all possible needs and remedies available through the state, officials said.

Williams Administrator Janet Burke said hunger issues are often tied to homelessness, unemployment, food stamp benefits, mental health, pregnancies, and budgeting, among other concerns.

“A holistic approach is taken to evaluate all needs and see if other state services might be needed,” Ms. Burke said.

Ultimately, she said, the largest demand for services concerns food.

“That’s an ongoing thing and we’ve always had a large demand for it,” she said. “We rarely turn anyone away.”

The Williams Center has an emergency food pantry for overnight and weekend distribution, with vouchers provided for weekday pickups at the church pantries.

“Our community partners do an excellent job and it is all run by volunteers,” Ms. Burke said.

Over 1,000 emergency food requests are made at the Williams Center annually, Ms. Burke said, and the trend has increased slightly since 2012.

“The mission of the Division of State Service Centers is to provide convenient access to human services, assist vulnerable populations, support communities and promote volunteer and service opportunities,” Ms. Burke said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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