Demopolis Rotarians hear food pantry history

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Rev. Evan Thayer of Trinity Episcopal Church was the speaker for the Oct. 25 Rotary Club meeting. The Demopolis Food Pantry volunteer presented Rotarians with a history of the outreach ministry and its connection to early Jewish settlers in Demopolis.

The food pantry was established in 1987 at Trinity Episcopal Church. Then later moved into the former Jewish synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun, in 1989. B’nai Jeshurun is Hebrew for Children of Righteousness.

Thayer said the congregation was organized in 1858 and purchased the land for their cemetery on Jackson Street in 1878.

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“The first temple was constructed in 1893. When it came time and they decided to build the new one, they built it inside the old synagogue and dismantled the old one,” said Thayer. “So the food pantry is housed inside what used to be the inside of the synagogue.”

In 1989, die to declining membership, the Jewish congregation decided to sell the deed to the synagogue to Trinity Episcopal Church. The deed was sold for $10 with the stipulation that the church would keep the congregation’s artifacts in the front of the building as a memorial.

In 2005, however, the church received permission to remove the artifacts that were left behind. Some of the artifacts were given to the Marengo County History and Archives Museum while others were given to the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience, and the Torah was redistributed to another congregation.

“So we are in their space, but they share with us and this whole ministry. It’s a reminder to us of their presence. And as a further reminder in Trinity Church, if you walk in you will see the two tablets from the front of the synagogue in our sanctuary,” said Thayer.

Thayer said the food pantry began keeping track of how many bags of food they distributed in 1997. Since then, volunteers have given out 217,921 bags of groceries and averages around 8000 bags of groceries per week. So far in 2023, the pantry has averaged about 125 people per time.

The Demopolis Food Pantry began in Trinity Episcopal Church and moved to Temple B’nai Jeshurun in 1989. Since 1997, the food pantry has given out 217,921 bags of groceries.

“People can come to the food pantry every Wednesday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. It’s modeled that way so that people can come get their things and those who have to go to work can go to work,” said Thayer.

The ministry purchases food through the Selma Area Food Bank at a discount. Funding is provided through donations from churches, the Demopolis Chamber of Commerce, Demopolis Fitness, Alabama Business Charitable Trust, Trustmark Bank, and even the Rotary Club has made donations in the past.

“The cost of the food last year was just over $14,000 and that’s just for the food itself. Trinity pays for everything else. We pay for the utilities, the insurance on the building, and the upkeep and maintenance of the building,” said Thayer. “All the donations that come in go towards food and also towards a small salary for volunteers who come in to help and unload groceries.”

Each person who visits the food pantry gets a bag of eight items with things like macaroni and cheese, vegetables and fruits, and packaged and frozen meat like ground beef or fish.

Demopolis residents receiving benefits from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Food Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or who are below 130 % of the poverty level are eligible to participate.

“People can come every week and the pantry is open to residents of Demopolis and the surrounding areas. People don’t have to prove their income. They have to just state that their income falls within the guidelines and then they are either receiving benefits from SNAP or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the SSI or they’re below 130% of poverty level,” said Thayer.