Demopolis Food Pantry helps feed 200 families each week
Every Wednesday morning a group of about a dozen men and women gather at the former Jewish temple on North Main Avenue to continue a tradition of providing help for those who need it.
The Demopolis Food Pantry got its start in the early 1980s — although no one is certain of the year — under the direction of Ann Eddins.
The first volunteers wanted to help “people that had fallen through the cracks,” said Byrd Rish, who has been the pantry’s director for some 20 years.
First operating out of a back corner of Trinity Episcopal Church’s Parish House, the Food Pantry moved across the street to the former Jewish Temple B’Nai Jeshurun when Trinity became the caretaker of the building.
For many years the pantry confined its work to the back room of the building. Now the back room is used to fill the bags for each client and to store most of the food. The front room is the distribution site.
The number of Demopolis residents in need of the food bank’s services has grown steadily since its doors opened to serve a dozen or so people. Each week volunteers pack bags of food for some 200 clients, “which is all we can handle,” said Rish.
Expanding any more would require paying rent on another facility. If that were to happen, “we couldn’t have a Food Pantry,” she said.
“We’re doing okay financially but just manage to stay within our income,” Rish continued.
While many churches and individuals send donations to help, most of the food comes from the West Alabama Food Bank in Tuscaloosa.
The local group pays 18 cents per pound. Some 2,000 pounds of food go out each week.
With the acquisition of two freezers and a refrigerator the Food Pantry also can provide fresh and frozen foods when available, added Rish.
In past years Demopolis volunteers had to travel to Tuscaloosa, rent a truck, pick up the items from the food bank, haul them back to Demopolis to unload, and then return the truck to Tuscaloosa.
It was a hard day, said John Rish, who made many such trips. Fortunately Wal-Mart donated a refrigerated truck to the Tuscaloosa operation, and John Rish no longer has to spend a day making two trips to the city.
Now his job is to order the food for delivery every three weeks.
The Food Pantry limits its clients to Demopolis residents, although Byrd Rish acknowledges there is a great need for such aid beyond the city limits. “We can’t do it” she said. “It’s sad.”
Each bag contains at least eight items, including a source of protein, vegetables, fruit and rice. When available soups and pasta and sauce are given out.
The Food Pantry provides emergency bags frequently, however, for those who aren’t regular clients.
To sign up, each client must fill out U.S. Department of Agriculture forms and meet income requirements. Those on Food Stamps are automatically eligible.
Most of those the pantry serves are elderly or disabled and live alone, but “some younger ones need it, too,” said Rish.
The Food Pantry is financed strictly by donations of non-perishable items and especially money. Because of the growing number of clients, volunteers now have to purchase paper sacks instead of relying on people donating paper sacks from grocery stores.
The Pantry director praised the annual canned food drives by Scouts, the U.S. Postal service and JROTC. Donations from local churches really help the work.
In addition each Christmas season Vowell’s Family Market offers customers the opportunity to provide bags of food for the pantry for $5 each, which really is appreciated, she said.
The food drives are important, she continued. “It’s a big help in raising awareness.”
Last Thanksgiving Food Pantry clients also received take-out dinners prepared by volunteers at Trinity.
So far getting help from volunteers hasn’t been a problem. “They find us. They want to help,” she said. “We’re always glad to have people come.”
Recently local students have been helping on Wednesdays before school and to meet Scout merit badge requirements. “We love having them pack and carry,” Rish said.
PROGRESS: This story originally appeared in “Progress 2014: Every day heroes,” which appeared in the Feb. 26 edition of The Demopolis Times.
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