By LEAH STRATMANN
As winter seems to be settling in for an extended stay and seasonal work has all but come to a halt, those seeking help through the Rural Relief Fund’s food pantry increases each time the pantry is open.
According to pantry manager Chuck Tucker, “We served 145 families which translates into about 400 people fed. This is an all time high by quite a margin,” he said. “We thought we were doing well at the first pantry in December when we got 100 folks, which was the most we had ever had, even the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
“On. Dec. 4, we became a little concerned by the numbers, but we figured on Dec. 18 there would be at least 100, or maybe a few more because it is cold and there is not much work out there. It is getting worse. We have signed up 50 new families at the last three pantry openings,” he said. “Our shelves were bare and some of the last people coming in for help did not get as much as usual.”
In addition to the pressure of more people on the pantry, the delivery schedule from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has changed. “The next USDA delivery isn’t until after the next pantry on Jan. 15. I have a feeling the next one won’t be as large, but I think we may still have more than a 100. I have an appointment at the Milton Food Bank, where I buy eggs, bread, and meats at a greatly reduced price. Then I will go to the dollar store for canned goods,” Tucker noted.
Along with the increased demand on the pantry, some donations were received during the Christmas season. “We were invited to a potluck dinner in south Walton and presented with a $2,000 check from Simple Faith. Then Ann [Chuck’s wife and Muscogee Nation of Florida chief] went to a meeting with the Democratic Women’s Caucus and they had raised more than $400. Individual donations from people who have heard about us added another $1,000, all of which only gets us through the next three pantry openings,” Tucker emphasized.
Donations of non-perishable foods as well as cash are always welcome, as are offers of labor.
“Out of the blue, last week I was informed a group of students from the University of Connecticut would arrive on Monday, Jan. 10 to work for a week on tribal land,” Tucker said. “They will work painting and sprucing up the pantry and begin working on getting the other trailer ready for the thrift shop,” Tucker said.
The students, who arrived as expected, are part of a community outreach project at UConn under the umbrella of Community Collaborations, International (CCI). Team leader Kayleigh MacRae said, “We go on trips and do meaningful service. This year it is all about rural poverty,” MacRae said.
Ryan Brown, another student volunteer and one of the 20 working on tribal land, said in total about 60 people made the trip to Northwest Florida with CCI director Steve Boisvert. “We are just part of the group which came here and we will return in the spring,” Brown said….
Read the full story in the Jan. 13, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.