Food pantry is really about personal connections as well as fighting hunger
Shopping assistance is a service some specialty retail stores offer their clientele. It’s also a service offered to clients of the Jesus Feeds Food Pantry operating out of The Adventure Church in Draper. That’s what sets this extension of the Utah Food Bank apart from most, that effort to go the extra mile and make it a personalized experience. “The other pantries don’t do this method. We’re still very unique,” said Hannah Weis, who serves as director.
The pantry volunteers recognize that giving a box of food can be impersonal, not to mention wasteful, if someone has food allergies or special dietary needs. And it’s not just about accommodating clients’ food needs, but other needs as well, including help obtaining food stamps, heating or drug assistance and social services referrals. It’s an opportunity for the pantry’s volunteer staff to feed and tend to the whole person.
Having clients come in on an appointment basis allows them to shop behind closed-doors, making the experience private. “We never want it to be impersonal and we don’t want them to wait in line. Confidentiality is extremely important,” said Susan Harrell, co-leader of the pantry along with Kelly Newman, volunteer coordinator.
“We want them to be treated as it would be if the situation was flipped,” Harrell said.
Wednesdays are bustling with activity as volunteers unload Utah Food Bank and other donations, stocking shelves and filling refrigerators. Thursdays are when clients come shopping.
“Thursdays are also a day that seniors can come in because we’re a distribution site for the Federal Senior Box Program,” Harrell said.
The food pantry started in a small closet at The Adventure Church in 2002. “Somebody in the church wanted to start a pantry for people in the church who had lost their jobs and needed food,” Weis said.
“This food pantry really took off in the financial downturn,” said Ira Popper, Associate Pastor of the church.
In 2010, the pantry approached the Utah Food Bank about being a south valley location for their service. After being inspected by the USDA and meeting requirements such as proper refrigeration, correct shelving and privacy rules for clients, the pantry was granted that status. The Utah Food Bank is the main provider of the food that comes into the pantry, but anyone can donate. Items like toothpaste, toilet paper, feminine products, formula and diapers are especially helpful since they can’t be purchased with food stamps and aren’t provided by the food bank. The pantry is also a partner of Feeding America.
Clients are of varying ages and nationalities. They include homeless walks-ins, college students and single moms, parents of disabled children, and a lot of self-employed people. The pantry also supports Holding Out Help, a Draper organization that aids people escaping polygamy. “When they have a family in need, we partner with them making sure they’re fed,” Harrell said. “We were chosen top model pantry by the Utah Food Bank for the state of Utah in 2010”, she proudly added.
Weis used to work a paying job in corporate America, but she far prefers her volunteer position at the food pantry. “It’s the highlight of my week. It really blesses us to do this,” she said.
Once a recipient of assistance, Weis has come full circle. “I know how it is. My parents were working two or three jobs each and we still didn’t have money for food. That’s how I grew up. Now that I’m not like that, I like to give back. It’s my passion, feeding people,” she said.
The volunteers have witnessed their clients come full circle as well. “We’ve gotten a lot of our volunteers from people we have served, “ Weis said.
“We serve the whole south valley. If you know families that are hurting, send them our way,” Newman said.
“There are a lot of lives that are touched through this food pantry. They don’t just give food, they are really sharing God’s love in a holistic way,” Popper said.