By LEAH STRATMANN
After months of often-repetitive paperwork, the food pantry opened under the auspices of the Rural Relief Fund and certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been notified they will receive the first shipment of supplies on Oct. 14. “We don’t know how much will be in the truck or what kinds of things they are bringing us,” said Chuck Tucker, manager of the food pantry.
“The USDA goes by county and they have a certain amount of food they have set up for Walton County. They don’t add more food right away, just because you have more people. What will happen, at least the first time, is the other USDA food banks will be given less. Geographically people who had been going to Caring and Sharing in south or north Walton County, but living in my area (Bruce) will probably now come here. If you are a USDA source and you live in Walton County, I will furnish you with food. USDA will come once a month now that we are on the rotation. No distribution of food will be made on delivery days,” he emphasized.
Tucker said the USDA works in cooperation with farmers to provide the food so what is received is often a mixed bag Sometimes there will be lots of chickens or other poultry and sometimes not. The same is true of fresh produce and other items. For non-perishable goods, Tucker said they have to get it off the shelves within six months after it is delivered to them.
The pantry will be open next on Oct. 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “What we give to people is not enough to feed them entirely, it is to supplement what they have. We do not have the funds nor the food to give them enough for a week’s worth of meals, but we would if we could,” he said.
Tucker said a typical family of three or four gets two to three pounds of dried beans, two to three pounds of rice, a pound of pasta, three cans of vegetables, and a can of soup. The pantry provides cereal if they have it, along with a large container of spaghetti sauce. They also receive a can of fruit, and two cans of either canned tuna or chicken. “We try to provide at least one meat meal like stew or chili. They each get four packs of Ramen noodles, a loaf of bread and a dessert of some sort if we have it. Usually they will get a dozen eggs and then we give them some sort of meat like sausage, hamburger or whatever we have. We give them things like toiletries also. It’s a large full bag and the larger families get two bags. Each bag costs between $15 and $25 depending on whether or not some of the dry and canned goods have been donated or if I have to purchase them at Sam’s or Dollar General store,” he said.
Each time the pantry is open and food is distributed, the expenditure is around $500. When the pantry was open on Sept. 25, they served 65 families, which equates to 220 people getting food. On that same day there was a political caucus and between donations from politicians and a raffle, $500 was raised which is one more open day for the pantry. A posted schedule through the end of the year is now attached to the wall of the pantry.
Since opening, the pantry has distributed more than 11,000 pounds of food. Record keeping required by USDA reveals that 6 percent of those receiving food are members of the Muscogee Creek tribe, 6 percent are Hispanic, and the remainder divided equally between Caucasians and African Americans.
“I had several new people this time and I finally asked them how they found out about it. One woman said her neighbor kept telling her to come over because she knew I was in bad shape, but I never wanted to come because I thought there were people worse off then me. Then my daughter and her husband lost their jobs and moved in with me and suddenly I became one of the people who were worse off. Pride should not keep people from coming,” he said, “it is temporary help for those who need it most. We have so many here that need help and it’s going to get worse. Hungry people do things they ordinarily would not do, like commit crimes. What we do is a necessary thing,” he explained.
Tucker says they have been lucky. “We only have a couple of folks who don’t seem thankful for what we give them. We have had some bring donations back to us when things got better for them. One guy we gave food to came back and helped to build the deck on the pantry. It’s a hand up, not a hand out.”
When the pantry first opened and began to seek donations, Tucker said many people were very generous. “The first couple of months we had a lot of money coming in here and then it more or less stopped. In January 2011 we hope to be able to ask those generous folks to donate again if they are able.”
The Rural Relief Fund needs donations of non-perishable food and cash, which can be used in a variety of ways. Those wishing to donate should send checks to Rural Relief Fund, 278 Church Road, Bruce, FL 32455.
Leah Stratmann may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org