Donations still needed even after Christmas

Published 11:06 pm Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Most people give to charities around Thanksgiving or Christmas, but those charities work all year long to help those less fortunate.

Those charities are all grateful for what they get, as they are reliant on donations to keep their work going. However, when the holidays are over, the amount of donations drops, as people stop thinking about charities as much.

The Food Pantry, located in the historic B’nai Jeshrun synagogue on North Main Avenue, is open Wednesdays from 8 to 9 a.m., although many of its consumers arrive at 7 a.m. or earlier.

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“We get most of our food from the West Alabama Food Bank in Tuscaloosa,” said Byrd Rish, a volunteer at the Food Pantry. “We can buy USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) food from them at 16 cents a pound. That’s quite a bargain! We can do a lot with that.”

A lot of donations come in the form of money, but serving 225 people a bag of groceries every week still costs quite a bit. Rish estimated that the amount of food given out each week weighs just under a ton, having received 92,000 pounds of food from Tuscaloosa last year.

“We really do a lot with not much money,” Rish said. “That may not sound like a lot of people, but when you add it all up, that’s more than 10,000 people coming through here over the year, or 10,000 bags of food that we give out.”

“To buy that food, we have to have money donated,” said Rebecca Culpepper, “because everything is strictly by donations.”

People who want to take part in the Food Pantry program register once a year in September. They must qualify for the program, based on household income. Those receiving food stamps, Aid for Families with Dependent Children or Supplemental Security Income automatically qualify.

“We keep up with each person week to week,” said Culpepper. “Because we are so dependent on donations, we just can’t service more. We take care of the disabled and the elderly, mainly.”

Rish estimated that about 80 percent of the Food Pantry’s consumers are over the age of 65.

“The numbers go up each year,” Rish said. “It is very seldom that we have somebody who doesn’t qualify.”

“It’s sad to see how many people are coming,” Culpepper said, “but I guess that’s a sign of the times, the economy.”

Rish mentioned one man who had lost his job at Linden Lumber after more than 20 years and came to the Food Pantry this month for help. Although he had not registered in September, the Food Pantry was able to supply emergency food for him.

“It’s hard to turn anybody down,” Rish said. “Well, we really don’t turn anybody down; we can give them an emergency bag.”

“And it’s pretty hard to tell somebody in January, ‘You can’t come back until September,’” Culpepper said. “So, we need any donations we can get.”

Those wanting to make donations can make monetary donations to the Food Pantry through the Trinity Episcopal Church, located across Main Avenue from the Food Pantry, or they can bring canned goods or non-perishable items to the Food Pantry when it is open.

The Food Pantry is the focus of a number of canned food drives throughout the year, but wants to be sure that individual donations keep coming even after Christmas.