A 21st Century Journalism Project

Will Volunteer for Food

In People on April 30, 2012 at 1:01 am


Pat and Paul Mayhue have volunteered at the Northwestern Food Pantry in Albion, PA for four years. “We thought it was something we could do; it’s something we’re able to help out with.”

A couple years ago they hit a rough patch with their finances and had to choose between buying food and paying their bills, luckily the Northwestern Food Pantry was there to help.

They receive most if not all of their food from the food pantry. “We usually get a couple packs of meat, we get breads and cracks…” amongst many other things.

The Northwestern Food Pantry is a member agency of the Second Harvest Food Bank. The food pantry gets most of its inventory from the food bank with only a small percent coming from the community. Steve Smith, director of the food pantry, explains how they feed all their clients; “In every distribution we hand out over 10,000 pounds of food to the families that come in. We purchase the supplies for about 13 cents a pound from the Second Harvest Food Bank, and sometimes even less because of the grants we get.”

Every month the food pantry opens its doors to many people who struggle to make ends meet. The week before the food gets distributed volunteers go down to the pantry to get things ready. “We packed tomatoes, rolls of toilet paper and get all the goods ready to be given out.”

During the distribution people get a choice about how they get their food for the month. People either can walk through the line and pick out the food they want or they can have a box pack for them by volunteers. “In our pantry we offer a thing called Client Choice, it lets the families choose what they want. In the past our food pantry just packed a box and handed them out…people had no choice. Now they have that choice, making the process more natural” said Steve Smith, director at the Northwestern Food Pantry.

volunteers helping people pick out food during a distribution

volunteers helping people pick out food during a distribution

Pat registers new clients to receive food at the pantry. “When people come in they are almost always embarrassed.” As people come in Pat reassures them that it’s ok to get help saying  “well we do it too” and “it gives you money for other bills and helps keep your head above water”.

The food pantry doesn’t just provide food to its patrons but due to a new program called Project Dignity it provides hygiene products as well as cleaning supplies. “Project Dignity gives people things that they can’t get with food stamps, like toilet paper, toothpaste, body and dish soaps, and paper towels.”  The things this project gives out are contributed solely by the community. Pat tells about one group of high school students that have a goal to raise a thousand rolls of toilet paper.

high school students raise 1,000 rolls of toilet paper

high school students raise 1,000 rolls of toilet paper

Pat recalls one time at the food pantry; “there was a woman who came in that hadn’t had any toothpaste or soap that month and so she was thrilled to find those things there.”

Child hunger is an issue the Mayhue’s take to heart.  She always asks kids during the summer  “Aren’t you glad to be out of school?” To her surprise she had very young children saying, “I’m not happy to be off of school, because at school I get a hot lunch, and when I don’t go to school I don’t get anything to eat for lunch.” Pat says stories like these are one of the reasons she volunteers.

The food pantry opens its doors once a month to distribute necessities to a community in need. Sometimes once a month just is not enough to completely address the issue of hunger, and when individuals encounter food emergencies the food pantry is always available for the hungry. Food emergencies come in all shapes and sizes.

Steve Smith remembered a time from when he started at the food pantry. A girl in her twenties kept coming to the food pantry every month to get help, but was always dressed in brand name clothing, “Until I talked to the girl I never would have realized that she was trying to provide for seven younger siblings. Her father was out of work and her mother couldn’t support the family by herself.”

Paul remembers a family that was not aware that they were getting evicted from their home until they were locked out and were in need of food assistance. Steve Smith went down and opened the pantry to get food for the family.

Pat also remembered a man whose wife left him with three small children and little to no food to feed them and yet again Steve went down and opened the food pantry to get them what they needed.

Hunger affects millions of people everyday all over the country. Karen Seggi, Director of the Second Harvest Food Bank said it best; “Hunger is a symptom the problem really isn’t hunger, poverty is the problem. Hunger is a symptom of poverty, if poverty is addressed, then hunger will be solved. I don’t know how to solve poverty. That’s going to take a collaborative effort though our policy makers, though our businesses, though our non-profit organizations to focus on the issue of poverty and what we can to eliminate poverty.”


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