PROFILE 2013: Feeding a need
New facility allows food pantry to grow outreach
Todd Terkhorn is in the back room of Harvest for the Hungry food pantry in downtown Ironton, checking out the shelves of supplies, when Helen Vinson working in the front office calls out, “We have two and three.”
The longtime volunteer at the pantry understands that lingo. It means a family of two adults and three children has just come in.
It also means he has to do a little readjusting of the shopping cart filled with already-packed grocery bags. It’s standard procedure for volunteers to keep the shopping cart ready with bags of grocery portioned out for two adults. That way when larger families come in, it takes just a little time to boost the order.
Typically one to two people are allotted between 20 and 25 pounds of food including cans of vegetables, bags of cereal, frozen meats and soup.
When the request comes in to help feed more people, Terkhorn does what he likes to call “swapping out,” pulling out the smaller sizes of items like jars of jelly for a family-size version of the same item.
“It gets adjusted,” he said. “Bigger soups, bigger cans of spaghetti. We will swap out with bigger cereals.
Vinson comes into the storage area to help out her fellow volunteer.
“They look like they need it,” Vinson tells Terkhorn as she helps him add to the grocery bags. “You can always tell.”
Then Terkhorn goes to one of the refrigerators and freezers banked against the wall to pull out some last-minute perishables. He grabs a frozen package of pork roast with vegetables for a hot meal.
“And here is something for some sandwiches while they wait for that to cook,” he said. “Let’s throw on a few more cookies.”
Then the pair pushes the cart out to the waiting adults who load it into their car.
And that’s the drill at the food pantry for the next three hours, as those volunteers will repeat their “shopping” for those in need.
The pantry, open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, can serve anywhere from 275 to close to 600 families a month. In September it opened up in a new building at the corner of Railroad and North Fifth streets.
The statistics for the past three months show the growing need in the community to help families with something as basic as healthy meals as each month the number that is helped hovers around 500 or more families.
In January there were 468 families helped; December, 476 and November 573, according to food pantry manager Dave Frazer, who took over the operation in September.
All who use the pantry are referred there by such agencies as the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, Social Security, Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services, Family Medical Center, Family Guidance Center, Community Counseling and Shawnee Mental Health.
All must fill out a form that includes their name, home address, number in the household by age and yearly income. For a household of one the yearly income cannot exceed $22,339; for two it is $30,259. For each additional person in the household, that yearly income is increased by $7,920. Then they receive a voucher that allows them a single visit each month.
A first-time visitor can use the food pantry once without a voucher. But subsequent times a voucher must be provided.
Sometimes Frazer goes shopping daily for the pantry from the Huntington, W.Va., food bank and he gets food delivered once a month from the food bank in Logan. He is also on the reserve list for River Cities Harvest food bank in Ashland, Ky.
“Whenever they have extra, they call me,” Frazer said.
Frazer estimates he gives out 5,000 pounds of food a month to those in need.
But items given out at the pantry can also come from donations by individuals off the street and includes cleaning supplies, diapers, toothpaste, even over the counter allergy medicines.
“Those travel sizes from hotels and motels, we take them and divide them out to people who can use it,” Terkhorn said.
Off from where the food is stored is another area with racks of warm winter coats
“If they come in without a coat, we ask if they need one,” he said. “And we will give them a coat.”
The pantry started in 1992 in the basement of First United Methodist Church by Colleen Massey, Mary Jenkins and Ted Hopkins.
Massey hasn’t lost her passion for the work and shows up three times a week at the pantry to continue helping out.
“We noticed a lot of people coming into the church asking for help and food,” she said. “We thought why not have food here. It grew from there.”
So the trio would bring in grocery bags of supplies and help out maybe five or six families a week.
“Now they are lining out the door,” she said.