Food pantry Chesapeake man’s ministry

Published 9:58 am Monday, June 29, 2009

CHESAPEAKE — See a need and fill it. That cliché piece of business advice has fostered the multimillionaire career of many an entrepreneur.

But it works just as well when the entrepreneur isn’t looking to make a buck. That’s the case with Charles Bell and the food pantry he started in December at the Chesapeake Church of the Nazarene.

A member there for the past four years Bell was constantly coming into contact with others who needed help stretching their food budget. The requests became so prevalent Bell went to his pastor Paul Merritt to propose the idea.

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Merritt gave his wholehearted support and Bell was off —except he had never run a food pantry.

So his first course was to educate himself, which took about a summer as he mastered all the rules and regulations.

Next he had to have a place so he commandeered an oversized closet-like spot in between two Sunday school rooms and started hauling in canned goods after canned goods.

“It is a very small room, but we try to keep a lot of things,” Bell said.

Since the pantry opened on Dec. 11, it has fed 1,293 from the village of Chesapeake and beyond.

The only requirement is that the person asking for food really needs it. Right now recipients do not have to provide any financial documentation. Of those about 50 percent have been adults; 24 percent have been children; and the rest senior citizens.

The cost of providing that food has added up to $5,000 so far. It takes about 25 hours a week for Bell and his wife, Norma, to restock the pantry shelves. A lot of that time is spent trying to find the best bargains.

“Someone in Rome will have something on sale. Then someone in South Point will,” he said. “It is constantly back and forth. Whoever has it on sale to get the best deal. When I catch it on sale, I try to buy a lot. But it is a joy to do.”

Everything at the pantry is either canned goods ranging from fruits and vegetables, milk, to chili and stews or dry goods such as powdered milk and noodle dishes.

“I don’t have refrigeration for frozen meats,” he said.

Johnny Clagg of Chesapeake is a regular at the pantry and lives on a fixed income.

“It’s hard to live month to month,” he said. “They are the most helpful people.”

The pantry is open each Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church where working alongside the Bells is fellow parishioner, Mary Boster.

The small pantry tucked in back part of the church has a big name, “Compassion First Ministries” that matches its founder’s philosophy of life.

“Compassion should be first in everybody’s mind,” he said.