Helping Hand Food Pantry a community affair

Volunteers work together to unload trucks and place food on the shelves and in the freezers at Helping Hand Food Pantry located on First Street, in Parsons.
PARSONS – Helping Hand Food Pantry may be operated by First United Methodist Church of Parsons, but it is a community affair. The food pantry serves individuals and families in Parsons and the surrounding area by providing a box of supplemental food once each month. Emergency food is also provided to those in need.

Helping Hand began in the 1990s under the leadership of Reverend Charles Hicks, who was the pastor of FUMC at the time. The ministry caught on quickly receiving support from other churches, businesses and individuals. The pantry was housed in two small rooms in the basement of the church until 2013, when it was moved into the former home of John and Dorothy Campbell located on First Street across from the church. Reverend Jeff Anderson, Pastor of FUMC since 2005, serves as Administrator of the food pantry. He explained the new location was purchased by the generosity of the late Paul and Wanda Hinkle. Tucker Community Foundation provided critical funding for the initial renovations necessary to move the pantry to the new location. The new pantry is much larger and provides shelter from the heat and cold to those being served. The porch area is used to house personal and household items donated to help those in need. The loading dock makes it easier for volunteers to unload trucks of food into the facility.

Anderson stated, “The food pantry is one of the most beautiful ministries I have ever seen. The ministry has experienced unbelievable growth. As the demand has increased, interest in supporting it has also increased.” One-third of the food is purchased from the government food bank with the remaining two-thirds derived from local donations. Food is purchased from Mountaineer Food Bank at 17.5 cents per pound and meat at 19 cents per pound. Shipping charges for these purchases are seven cents per pound. Income used to purchase food and donations of food are received from local churches, organizations, businesses, schools and individuals. Parsons Shop-n-Save and Sheetz contribute food weekly.

Many individuals from the community volunteer at the food pantry, including Katherine Pine, the only remaining volunteer who has worked at the pantry from day one. Pine said she has worked with several wonderful people over the years, many of whom have passed. “It’s a blessing to serve. I remember last year we had one turkey left. I took it out and a small child about five years old jumped up and down and clapped his hands. He said, ‘Mommy, Mommy, we’re gonna have turkey for Christmas!’ People melt your heart, especially children.”

Volunteer Dorothy Carr stated, “It’s a wonderful community project, and because times have been tough, we serve a lot of people.” Kay Flanagan and Louanna Bava added, “We just love being here and helping out. Everyone is very appreciative.” Jeannette Crosten explained, “Many have a misconception the food pantry only serves our church. It just so happens we have the facility here, but it’s for the entire community.”

Paul Mauzy greets families as they enter the food pantry. “We’re seeing more combined families lately. We serve many families of 10 or more. The box they receive is meant to be supplemental food to last approximately three or four days. It is not intended to be a month’s supply.” He added, “It’s a rewarding experience to be able to help those in need. People don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes. Trucks must be unloaded, shelves stocked, freezers loaded and food boxed.” The pantry prepares 25-30 boxes of food each week but often must prepare more to meet the growing demand. At Christmas the pantry distributes 150-180 baskets of food. Large families receive a turkey, and smaller families receive a chicken. One year, 220 Christmas baskets were distributed.

It costs approximately $1000 per month to purchase food in conjunction with donated items. One slight disadvantage to moving the facility outside the church building is the cost of utilities, but volunteers say the advantages far exceed the disadvantage of the added expense. According to the volunteers, the new facility is more efficient for workers and patrons. However, the former location continues to be utilized by the Tucker County Family Resource Network to house its backpack ministry, which provides supplemental food for local children.

Donations to the pantry are always accepted and appreciated. Specific items needed include pancake syrup, pancake mix, peanut butter, canned milk, cooking oil, condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, etc.), dry cereal, pizza kits, spaghetti sauce, pickles and other extras and any type of processed food that can be prepared easily. Fresh garden produce is always welcomed. Volunteers explained, “We have a lot of single individuals and families, who do not cook, so we need foods that are easy to prepare.” Monetary donations are needed to purchase meat and commodities. Nonfood items such as toilet paper, soap, shampoo and laundry soap are also appreciated.

Anderson concluded, “It’s a biblical mandate to care for the hungry, the widow. We’ve been fortunate by the support of the community and the grace of God to do so. The food pantry is a jewel of the community. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but there will always be the need of the hungry. The community can be very proud of what’s being done here.”

To donate, volunteer or request assistance, please contact Reverend Anderson, Katherine Pine or Dorothy Carr at FUMC, 304-478-2944.