By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The number of people seeking and receiving food from the Madison County Food Pantry is up by nearly 20 percent over last year.
“There’s been a general increase every year for a number of years in a row, but in the last five months of 2013 we’ve had the biggest increase in the history of the organization,” said Jim Witwer, director.
The food pantry serves individuals in need who live in the London zip code or in South Solon. In the last half of 2012, the pantry distributed food to an average of 1,176 people per month. That number for the last half of 2013 was 1,454.
Witwer said the biggest increase is among senior citizens, including those with whom grandchildren are staying. In general, the pantry is seeing more traffic from multi-generational households.
Thanks to a network of support, the pantry is keeping up with the increased need.
“We’ve been blessed to have some churches who have jumped on board to help out more and some businesses, too,” Witwer said.
Established in 1981, the Madison County Food Pantry is a non-profit organization operated by 12 churches and supported by individuals, schools, civic groups and businesses.
“We are all volunteers. We have no paid employees and no paid board members,” Witwer said.
The pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Families can visit the pantry once a month to receive at least three meals a day for three days for every member of the family.
“Very seldom do we give the minimum. We are averaging three meals for five days. The least we do is four days’ worth,” Witwer said.
The pantry purchases 90 percent of its goods from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Volunteers also pick up food donations weekly from Kroger, Schuler’s Bakery and Walmart, all in London. Procter Farm, located just outside of London, donates fresh produce and eggs. Pantry clients receive canned and boxed goods, frozen meat and refrigerated vegetables.
They also receive a warm welcome.
“We think of ourselves as a pleasant food pantry,” Witwer said. “There’s a lot of humor. Everybody is greeted with a ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ We try to keep it from being an unhappy activity.”
The pantry accepts donations of food and money. Canned and boxed food, especially heat-and-heat canned meals like spaghetti and ravioli, are needed year-round. The pantry also appreciates donated personal care items, such as toothpaste, deoderant and toilet paper. Monetary donations are tax deductible.
“We’re very open about our financials. We post them right inside the door, so if someone donates money, they know right where it goes,” Witwer said.
Volunteers are always welcome. Participating churches supply manpower on a rotating basis, but extra hands are helpful for sorting and stacking large donations from food drives or to supplement the church crews.
Witwer invites anyone who wants to know more about the pantry, whether on the giving or receiving end, to stop by any Wednesday or Saturday morning.
“Come on over… and just see what we do,” he said.
In 2012, the pantry distributed 3,915 boxes of food, helped an average of 326 families per month, and served 12,875 individuals overall. In 2013, through November, the pantry distributed 4,250 boxes of food, helped an average of 386 families per month, and served 14,099 individuals overall.
Besides the twice-weekly food distribution, the pantry delivers food boxes monthly to about 30 shut-ins, provides needy families with meal vouchers for Christmas meals, and gives age-apprporiate books to every child who receives food provisions. The pantry also supplies food in emergencies, such as house fires, as needed.
In addition to Witwer, the Madison County Food Pantry board includes: Sherrie Rarey, assistant director; Wanda Swyers, treasurer; Connie Tostevin, secretary; and members Chris Cox, Dick Hirst, Joretta Hunter, Ralph Lininger and Jim Roddy.
For more information, call Jim Witwer at (614) 404-4718 or leave a message at (740) 852-5822. The pantry is located at 137 Maple St., London.