Like all ministries of this type, the food pantry at Huntersville is driven by a heartfelt, deep conviction.
“We just want people to know we’re here and we love them,” according to Wanda Kerns, coordinator of the Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays food pantry at Huntersville United Methodist Church.
Whether it’s food, laundry detergent, or toothbrushes, the volunteers at the pantry are passionate about meeting needs.
“We don’t want anything to end up in the dumpster,” coordinator Pam Elsass said. Even leftover produce is sometimes used to feed farm animals.
Every Tuesday volunteers gather at HUMC to receive donations of food from Second Harvest, an organization that specializes in eliminating hunger by soliciting and distributing food. On Wednesday morning, a truck arrives from Loaves & Fishes bearing staples, produce, and more to be distributed from the Huntersville pantry. Target also donates baby and cleaning supplies. Members of the community bring food and money to help the efforts.
Utilizing different rooms at the church, volunteers sort donations by category and check expiration dates. Their goal is to ensure that all the food and donations are used to help people in the community.
Clients are referred to the food pantry from a variety of sources and vetted in Charlotte at the Loaves & Fishes offices. Each family is eligible for 12 distributions from the pantries. Each person in the family gets a box of staples and the food is augmented by produce, grains, breads, pasta, desserts, and household goods at HUMC.
Wanda said the goal of the program is not long-term dependence but to help people that are in a bad situation. “We want people to be able to use us as they need us.” she said.
The food pantry at HUMC traces its origins back to 1987 when five area churches including First Baptist saw the need for a local food pantry. The church answered that need by providing the facility for the pantry. Since then, the pantry became affiliated with the Loaves & Fishes network and moved into HUMC’s new church facility on Stumptown Road in 2008.
Recently Loaves & Fishes merged with Friendship Trays pooling resources and meeting needs for meal deliveries in the community. HUMC serves as the distribution point for local meal deliveries.
Before the pandemic, clients came into the pantry and shopped for their needs. New safety precautions require volunteers to deliver food in a Drive-Thru.
“We are eager to be able to get back to allowing people to shop,” Pam said. “That way they can really find what they need. I think we do a pretty good job of equally distributing the donations, but it would be nice if they could choose items particular to their needs.”
It takes the whole community to make this pantry work. Volunteers come from all over the community including HUMC, St. Mark’s Catholic Church, and other area churches. Before the pandemic, as many as 90 volunteers helped run the pantry and stage and deliver food. Now a crew of 25-30 does the work.
Donations come from a variety of sources including individuals donating toiletries, food, and money. The money is used to buy essentials that are not donated. The Huntersville pantry serves about 25 families a week. Locations are spread around the Charlotte area to give people a choice of times and days to give and receive donations.
“It works because of the generosity of the community,” Wanda said. “People want to take care of their own.”
Pam said people can help by donating toilet items, cleaning supplies, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and laundry detergent. Food that keeps like pastas, canned foods, and condiments are always welcome. Money donations are used to buy what they don’t have on hand, but families need. Promising Pages provides reading materials for children and students, too.
“We want to help the whole person here,” she said. “What we get in, we give out.”
World Hunger Day at First Baptist Church donated 15% of the funds raised in 2019 to Loaves & Fishes/Friendship Trays in Huntersville. World Hunger Day is set for Saturday, September 25th starting at 7 a.m. A huge yard sale, silent auction, and food vendors will take over the campus and money raised will benefit local food ministries like the Angels & Sparrows, Caterpillar Ministries, the Community Breakfast, and Loaves & Fishes. Gently used donations for World Hunger Day start Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10am – 4pm, Sunday, Sept. 19 from 2pm – 5pm and Mon – Thu, Sept. 20 – 23 from 4pm -7pm at the church north parking lot.