Religion News: January 2018

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Danny and Marsha Newton. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Crozet UMC Food Pantry Heads Into 34th Year

In March 1984, three or four people stopped by the new food pantry operated by the Crozet United Methodist Church on its first day. In fact, it was just a handful of Crozet citizens who had inspired the idea in the first place. Polly and Mack Sheets worried about the plight of the men who sat on the wall beside the old drug store in all weather. Through friends, the Sheets had a connection with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, also in its infancy, and they did the paperwork to make the church a participating site.

The modest turnout didn’t faze the organizers, who had come up with the idea the previous fall. They knew those few people would be the best advertisement for the new project.

They were right. Connie Herring, the food program coordinator, said the most recent Monday distribution of perishable food served 87 households, or 218 family members. The weekly program gathers produce and baked goods from two Charlottesville Food Lion stores and offers them to any local families in need. “All they have to do is sign their name,” Herring said. By making the process quick and easy, the pantry can help people who find themselves in a bad situation to feed their families immediately.

Diana Pace, who assists Herring in the project, says the Monday program supplements the non-perishable pantry items that are offered at the church monthly, through the USDA food distribution program on the third Saturday. The most recent count on this part of the food ministry is 119 families served, or 313 individuals.

On Mondays, “We especially like it when we get versatile produce like potatoes, onions and apples,” Pace said, although the volunteers sometimes get an unfamiliar item. “Sometimes our clients know more about what to do with an unusual vegetable than we do,” she said.

The two volunteers identified a few of the many situations that prompt people to seek help feeding themselves and their families. Pace said there are many older people, disabled and retired, who are on fixed incomes and cannot rebound from an unexpected expense. Other clients are families, joined unexpectedly by other family members who are down on their luck, and unable to stretch their budget enough to accommodate the extra mouths to feed.

Pantry items ready for pickup. Photo: Theresa Curry.

“Then, there are the young homeless people, without families,” Herring said. All are served in a way that strives to preserve their dignity: “We distribute only quality items,” she said. Another way they show respect is by offering clients the freedom to choose the food they need, a practice that avoids waste as well as acknowledging the individual tastes and health requirements of each client. And volunteers are working on new countertops to upgrade the pantry’s appearance.

Clients also appreciate doing their share to avoid waste: “We ask them to bring re-usable bags, and they do,” Herring said. Any items that have seen better days are picked up by Black Bear Compost which, in turn, delivers compost to nourish the church’s downtown landscape.

Volunteers of all ages and church affiliation are welcome to contact the food pantry through the Crozet United Methodist Church website, crozetunitedmethodist.org.

St. Paul’s Houses Homeless Women in February

Along with dozens of congregations and community groups, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy will give homeless men and women a warm place to sleep this coming winter through PACEM (People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry). The church provides shelter and parishioners provide a warm evening meal, coffee and breakfast, and help transport cots, linens and people to and from the church.

PACEM provided shelter to 218 adults last winter, with an average of 38 men and 9 women each night from November through March. It falls to St. Paul’s to be the hosts to the women for a week in February, said Gina Thornton of St. Paul’s. This is the fourth year that the church has participated.

PACEM statistics tell us a little about who becomes homeless: many are veterans and the largest percentage are the working poor. PACEM staffers help clients to acquire identification they may have lost in order to find work and housing, and they work together with the Salvation Army and Mohr Center to take steps to find a stable housing solution. PACEM is the place of last resort for homeless adults who need overnight shelter in the winter.

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