Traffic up at county food bank

It isn?t quite a well-oiled machine yet, but for volunteers at the Marion County Food Bank and Resource Center, it?s getting closer.

Gerry Henderson, chairman of the organization, recently reported to Marion County commissioners about their progress.

After two months, he said, and a change of name, location, vouchering system and board of directors, everyone at the bank was surprised by how many more families they are reaching.

When the food bank was at Marion?s Valley United Methodist Church, Henderson said statistics were lax on how many families were served on a monthly basis.

?(We think) the average was 80 to 100 families,? he said.

For 30 years, the church would open the food bank two days a week, from 9 a.m. to noon.

At the new location at 1220 Main St., 460-plus adults went through the center in May and June on Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon, and Thursdays from 4:30-7:30 p.m.

?By changing the hours on Thursday,? he said, ?it gives those a chance that are working to get off work and get up here.?

The new location has a much better situation for people who have trouble with steps, he said.

?With the absence of stairs, people can get to us easily. Now that we have accessibility, people can come in wheelchairs, walkers or ride bicycle.

One crisis away

?Folks are always asking me about people who may be (abusing) the system,? he said. ?I am sure there are some, but I can?t detect them easily.?

Henderson said a recent situation involved one of the volunteers and how she works hard to make people feel good about coming in.

?She had a friend who retired at the same time she did, and she thought the other couple had finances reasonably the same,? he said.

One day her friend showed up at the food bank and the volunteer took time to talk to her.

?She found out they were paying some horrendous medical expenses for the husband, and they are now having $1,100 to $1,200 a month in pharmacy costs,? Henderson said.

?These people needed a little help, and we have a lot of people like that,? he added.

Personal involvement

?I got started on Shared Sunday four years ago,? Henderson said about his involvement.

He said each fourth Sunday of the month, the congregation donated whatever they could to the food bank.

?Jackie Volbrecht worked at the food bank, so we knew whatever we could donate as a congregation would get distributed the next day.?

With Volbrecht working there, they all knew who would be fed for the next one or two weeks.

?What really bowled me over was that never in those four years have we not had contributions in groceries or cash that we spent that allowed us to pretty well fill that little room,? Henderson said.

Every month for four years, he said, he and Volbrecht did the shopping and had at least $300 to spend.

The Marion Presbyterian Church is still doing that today and the Holy Catholic Church has a great presence there, too.

MAC involvement

Marion Advancement Campaign, which owns the building, thought it could be better used by another group than as a teen center.

Henderson said he was approached by MAC officials to serve on a board of directors. In fact, he said, every board member was approached by MAC asking for their involvement.

Those members included Janet Bryant, who has spent 30 years keeping tab at the Methodist Church and food distribution.

Her daughter, Jan Helmer, was keeping Christian Women United Checking accounts and accepted a position on the board.

Linda Ogden is a working volunteer of the food bank and is on the board.

Charlotte Coleman was a food bank user and graduate of Circles, an organization helping people to eradicate poverty.

?Charlotte is now a Circles leader and has two full-time jobs at Carlson?s Gro?cery and one other place,? he said. ?She gives a perspective that I value.?

Need is great

?While our demand increased fourfold?at least?our supply hasn?t kept up with that,? he said. ?What I am trying to do now is work on things like a website to send letters to businesses, churches, civic organizations and such.?

Because the Marion County Food Bank and Resource Center is affiliated with MAC, Henderson said some attractive things go with that.

?MAC has a 501c3 designation so people can donate through MAC and use it as a tax writeoff,? he said. ?Since we have affiliation with MAC and 501c3, we have been able to tap into the new Wal-Mart store in Hillsboro, allowing them to get rid of frozen meat.?

He said Wal-Mart can participate because it is able to give food to groups with a 501c3 for tax purposes.

A county affair

If people come from other towns in Marion County, Henderson said they will be served.

?We don?t ask if they went to their other food bank?that is up to them,? he said. ?We emphasize serving all people from all parts of the county and we do need a little support from all parts of the county, too.?

One example he cited involved a farmer that didn?t live in town but made a $500 donation after harvest.

?That is the kind of help we need,? he said.

Another advantage of being a 501c3 is that the food bank can affiliate with the Kansas Food Bank warehouse in Wichita, he said.

?What we spend at the Kansas Food Bank is invested in what is called, ?Invest an Acre,? which takes whatever you donate and doubles it,? he said.

A great asset

Henderson said the food bank couldn?t run without Gene Winkler.

?He is one of the most giving people I have ever known,? Henderson said. ?He makes trips to Wal-Mart to pick up meat (even though) we have a couple of other guys that do it.?

Henderson said Winkler also made most of the trips to the warehouse in Wichita with his vehicle and trailer.

?When we needed some kind of a record system, he set us up on an Excel spreadsheet, so we quit doing paper and pencil stuff,? he said. ?Gene is just there all the time.?

Procedure

When someone comes into the food bank, Henderson said they register at the front desk.

?Then someone will show you where you can pick up sacks and start around the shelves,? he said. ?Whatever it takes to feed a family and yourself for two weeks is what is allowed.?

Three freezers include pork, chicken and beef, and there is a lot of bread donated from the Wichita bank.

The frozen meat is free and so are potatoes from the WFB, he added.

?You are shopping just like you would be shopping in a grocery store,? he said.

People help themselves, Henderson said, for up to a two-week supply.

?It?s not my job to judge people,? he said. ?There is someone in a much higher paygrade then us (who does that).?

Henderson said he and the other volunteers have faith the donations and needed help will continue.

?Still would like to let people know we are there in case they want to be God?s finger and write me a check for $1,000,? he said.