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Chesapeake food pantry reaching out to more

CHESAPEAKE — It’s been two years since Charles Bell saw how deeply his community was affected by the downturn in the economy, how many people were struggling to put food on the table.

That’s when he went to the pastor of his church to ask if he could start a food pantry there.

Now Bell is starting on his third year coordinating the Compassion First Food Pantry at the Chesapeake Church of the Nazarene with significant expansions in his volunteer roster and facility size. But more importantly, as he sees it, the pantry has quadrupled the number of families whose mission it is to help.

“We have been really busy. Week before last we had 44 families and gave food to 114 people,” Bell said. “We have a lot of new faces. That is one of the main things here since January we have seven to 10 new families a week. You keep hearing the economy is better on TV, but I will tell you you don’t see that at the food pantries. We keep getting more and more people.”

Because of the increased number of those needing assistance, Bell has added a storage room for supplies and what he likes to call “a canteen room,” where recipients can wait before getting their food.

“We get so many people now we have a number system,” he said.

Those waiting for their number to be called can go to the canteen room to get coffee and doughnuts.

“People can go in there until we can call them in,” he said.

Having the new storage room has enabled Bell to take advantage of bargains when he finds them in the stores and he can draw on those supplies during the months when funding runs low.

“That is the point of having this storage room,” he said. “Some months I just use the stuff there and don’t buy as much. I have to run to different places to get food when somebody has it on sale. I am constantly picking something up for the food pantry.”

The money comes from individual donations, grants and special fundraisers the pantry conducts.

“It has really been an exciting adventure. We couldn’t do it without the Lord,” Bell said. “We have been able to keep it supplied and the money to keep it supplied. Fortunately we have fundraisers. We just had one the first part of May. We always do pretty well,” Bell said. “We just set up in front of stores and ask for donations. And we have people who donate regularly every month.”

When the pantry first opened, it was manned by just Bell and his wife, Norma. Soon they were joined by another church member, Mary Boster.

Today there are six more volunteers who spend almost as much time at the pantry as Bell does.

“They just started coming and they are here every week,” he said. “That has been a blessing.” The new volunteers are Pat France, Frances Wriston, Glen Dick, Thelma LaFon and Andy Walters.

“The funny thing is a lot of them who come and help us, they don’t go to church here,” he said.

“I think it is so great people care enough to volunteer their time. We couldn’t do without all of them. God has really blessed us. We couldn’t do it without God.”