Directors and operating hours may change, but the work and community impact of the East Gibson Food Pantry does not.
The pantry, which started in 1982, works to provide East Gibson community members a place to come for assistance if needed. The hours are now 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. each Wednesday, and it offers a variety of food items, as well as personal care items.
For its first day of 2020 the pantry assisted 20 families, about its maximum with limited storage space for refrigerated and frozen items.
Rhonda Cox, who took over in November as director of the pantry, said the amount of clients who come through is often related to the time of the month.
“A lot of our clients get some sort of assistance,” she said. “We have a lot of people on Social Security or they’re on disability.”
For those who receive government assistance, that check often lasts about three weeks. Cox said she learned during a training from the USDA the reason food pantries started was to account for that other week.
To start the year, Cox moved pantry hours to one day a week to help with shopping and upkeep, and plans to keep them that way for six months as a trial run.
“Everyone was patient as they waited in line,” she said. “They seemed to like the way it was set up.”
The first time someone visits, they are required to bring an ID and two pieces of mail, like a bill, that show their current address. They are then given a sheet to fill out where they state that they fall within the financial guidelines, and another sheet where they can circle what they need from an available list.
Cox said if they can help 20 families a week, she believes the community members will spread themselves out.
“I think (East Gibson has) a big need. I used to work in the school cafeteria and I was really surprised how many children in the East Gibson area were on free lunches and reduced lunches,” Cox said. “They probably qualified to come here and probably do. I feel like we have a real need.”
Cox said during training they also learned about homelessness and how that’s defined.
“You might not see people living on the street here,” she said, “but they tell us that if they don’t have their own home and they have to share a home with a family member or friend then they’re considered homeless.”
Cox said in November there were 80 families, though that number could be somewhat connected to the Thanksgiving holiday. In December, the pantry served 60 families.
“You can tell, we’re always busy,” she said.
For years that busyness was handled by Dorothy and Charles George. Cox worked as Dorothy’s assistant director, and she said the couple was wonderful to work with.
“They’re just really sweet people,” Cox said.
The two retired this year, at which point Cox moved into the director position.
“(Dorothy) knew just about everybody,” Cox said. “She probably knew their parents or their grandparents.”
While Cox is still working on learning some names, she said God laid it on her heart to step into the director position.
“Once I said yes I would, it was just a big relief off my shoulders,” she said.
Cox said Dorothy had been asking for a bit when she would take over for her, but she was concerned about the time commitment, making sure she would have time to spend her young grandkids. But it was the right decision, she said.
The job entails a lot of planning, shopping, and handling donations that could come in for the pantry. The pantry is helped through donations and the Tri-State Food Bank. Cox said they also are helped greatly by the local Ruler Foods. Soon they will be able to call and place their order for pickup, which will help them manage their shopping trip even better.
All the work is done by volunteers, and this Monday, some of the people who Cox said are a great group to work with, were on hand to help ready the pantry for its Wednesday hours.
Denise Culver was busy bagging ground beef to be placed in the freezer, while Jess Hensley and Beth Schmitt, both Mom’s Diner employees, made their way across the street to carry boxes and cans inside the church.
David and Karen Holmes, Cathy Williams and Terry Crooks all busied themselves in the pantry stocking shelves with food and hygiene products.
Cox said she didn’t know all of them prior to starting in the director position, but the pantry has also made her some new friends.
“They’re people you know you can count on,” Cox said.
DonationsDonations can be dropped off at Trinity Methodist Church during church hours. Monetary donations can be sent to Rhonda Cox at 11262 E Base Rd, Oakland City, IN 47660.