Area churches offer help after food pantry closes

Published 12:34 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — With the Natchez Food Pantry set close by month’s end, some area churches are prepared to fill the void.

For 17 years, the 61 South Church of Christ, No. 2 Beau Pré Road, has distributed food to families in need. Currently, the church assists 125 to 150 families a month, record keeper Rosie Seyfarth said. Food distribution is every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m.

“Our church funds (the pantry) completely, but we do get an occasional donation,” Seyfarth said. “We receive our food from the Mississippi Food Network.”

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The 61 South Church of Christ pantry is strictly a volunteer operation, and families are screened via applications provided by the Mississippi Food Network. Seyfarth said the church has experienced a small influx since the Natchez Food Pantry’s closing was announced.

“We’re seeing a small increase, but some of these people are going to more than one agency and they’re not supposed to do that,” Seyfarth said. “We help all the people we can, and if they qualify we help them.

“I don’t think there’ll be too much of a gap (left by the Natchez Food Pantry) because other (churches) will pick (families) up.”

Other churches filling the gap include Pilgrim Baptist Church, 117 Pilgrim Blvd., and Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 607 1/2 Madison St. Both churches also receive their food from the Mississippi Food Network.

Pilgrim’s food distribution is every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., director Lorraine Davis said.

“We have picked up some people who have been told the Natchez Food Pantry was closing,” Davis said. “One of our stipulations is we cannot turn anyone away.”

Davis said Pilgrim opened its pantry in 2005, and serves at least 300 families every month. The church congregation provides funding.

“We’re dependent solely on what the congregation gives,” Davis said. “We don’t have paid (employees). I don’t see how you can afford to pay someone to help the poor.”

Jacqulyn Williams, record keeper for Rose Hill’s food pantry, said the church’s food distribution depends on when the delivery truck arrives.

“(The distribution date) varies according to what day in the month the truck comes,” Williams said. “It’s usually about the second week in the month on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. We put notices in the newspaper and on the radio so people will be aware of when they need to come.”

Rose Hill assists 48 to 50 families a month with the help of church funds and a volunteer staff. Rose Hill also screens applicants via the Mississippi Food Network.

“We don’t serve the same people each month. We serve different group each month,” Williams said. “We have to spread it out.”

Davis said the efforts among churches to feed Natchez’s hungry should ease family anxieties.

“Between all the churches, I don’t think anyone has to worry,” Davis said. “None of us are worried if we take some families, but all of us worried if we take 500.”

Penny McCary, director of the food pantry at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church, operates a smaller food distribution, assisting only six families a week. McCary said the church depends on the Natchez Food Pantry to determine which families are eligible for assistance, and will have to explore other screening avenues.

“(The Natchez Food Pantry closing) is concerning because it serves 400 people a month and we’re only doing six families a week and we’re hitting 24 different families a month,” McCary said. “I feel it’s important that the churches help out. Our (pantry) is not huge, but every little bit counts.”

Currently, the Natchez Food Pantry is operating at a $17,000 deficit. The pantry’s annual operating budget is $50,000, which comes from grants and community donations. The budget covers the salary of part-time director, Tommy Jackson, as well as labor and overhead costs, Catholic Charities Director Martha Mitternight said in a previous report.

The pantry feeds 422 families every month.