Hillsboro woman manages Newton food ministry

Sometimes, Erin Bales and her husband don’t have enough money to feed their three children at the end of the month.

When that happens, the Newton residents can turn to First Christian Church, which has been giving food to folks for the past 30 years through Food Ministry USDA Food Commodities.

“It’s a huge blessing for the community, for sure,” Bales said, sitting with one of her children, Cierra, 2.

The Bales family also are members of the church, and Bales said they appreciate the food.

“It helps,” she said. “Every little bit helps. Sometimes you just don’t have enough money at the end of the month for food.”

Bales also said they only can use The Salvation Army so often, and it’s nice to have the food distribution at First Christian at the end of the month. The food distribution is from 8:30 to 10 a.m. the third Saturday of each month at the church at First and Main Streets.

“The church has been hosting it for 30 years,” said Allison Hammond, one of three family members who run the church’s food ministry. “It just got bigger and bigger.”

Hillsboro resident Ham­mond, and her parents, Karen Hammond and Rod­ney Voth, also of Hillsboro, are members of the Newton church.

“I do mostly all the paperwork and reporting back to the USDA,” Karen Ham­mond said, adding she tells volunteers what to put in sacks for people needing food.

Allison and her father are in charge of the labor.

One of the laborers, or volunteers, is Shirley Grosch, 81, of rural Newton, another member of the church. She’s volunteered with the program since it began in 1965.

“Shirley is a super good woman,” Karen Hammond said.

Grosch doesn’t seem to want to stop anytime soon.

“I may be having to slow down,” she said. “I’ll see what the doctor says.”

Karen Hammond asked her if the doctor knows how much she does, and she replied, laughing, “No.”

Most of their volunteers are retired, and there are a couple of younger folks, too.

Volunteers do help people.

“This past month, we served 98 households, which consisted of 295 people,” Karen Hammond said, and they distributed about two-thirds of what they had on hand in the first 20 minutes.

They don’t necessarily have a USDA truck come loaded with food every month. When they run short of commodities, the church’s food ministry subsidizes to make sure there’s enough to distribute every month. They do get some funds from the CROP Hunger Walk.

“Last year, we didn’t have the CROP Walk, so our ministry took a hit on that,” Karen Hammond said. “We’re not getting funding from the CROP Walk.”

The church also gets a small number of financial donations from members of the church, as well as non-members.

Karen Hammond said how much food they give away every distribution time varies. Volunteers put together 45 bags that each will feed one to two people, 24 sacks that each are given to families of three or four, 15 boxes for families of five or six, and five boxes for families of seven to eight, making that about 90 bags and boxes per time, although during the last distribution date, they made 15 to 20 additional containers full, but that’s not always the case.

“There’s been months we’ve put ‘em back in inventory,” Allison Hammond said.

The Friday prior to distribution day, about 10 to 12 volunteers go to the church to sack. Grosch said sometimes there are that many and sometimes not. They place two people at each table. Allison Hammond said in the bags they put foods that represent the following: protein, vegetables, starch and fruit.

“I think we get it all sacked in about an hour, and then there’s 30 minutes of visiting,” Karen Hammond said.

Those who wish to get food need to meet income guidelines and sign a form that states they know what the guidelines are. Income guidelines include maximum gross monthly income of $1,287 for a household of one, $1,736 for a household of two, $2,184 for a household of three and $2,633 for a household of four. For each additional family member, add $451.

“If you show up and say you need food, we’re not going to turn anybody away,” Allison Hammond said.