St. James Food Pantry has been serving the community for many years. Over that time, as the need has increased, so has the necessity for more space. From the church basement to a garage stall, there just wasn’t enough room to meet the demand.
That all changed toward the end of last year.
Parishioners who own a building across Main Street from the church offered a storefront. The O’Brien family suggested using the former Norman’s Uniform shop for the pantry. With a church parking lot just across the side street, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Hope Matthews, outreach coordinator at St. James, recalled it was “just packed” with uniforms the first time she entered the building. But then, she had a vision.
“When I walked in that front door, I could see this, just exactly how it looks now,” Matthews said.
“Our goal is to try to make it a pleasant experience,” she said. “It’s big, it’s spacy. It’s comfortable.”
It looks like a small grocery store and more.
A large, food-themed mural on the wall, “Table of Plenty,” was painted by a parishioner just inside the front door. There’s a small waiting area with sturdy chairs, for those who may have to wait to “shop.” Behind the counter are cloth grocery bags. Shelves are lined with food. A small cooler area is off to one side. Displays with racks of personal items are on the other side of the “store.”
“The Holy Spirit has been with us the whole way,” Matthews added. “It all came to fruition by the beginning of February, without closing the other pantry.”
Students from St. James School and the Religious Education program helped move the food across the street. Adult volunteers helped with the setup. The combined effort doesn’t stop there.
Food collections at weekend Masses bring in 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of food each month. Many offer monetary donations. Other members have connections to other supplies. Area businesses, including CVS, Frito-Lay and Save-A-Lot, have helped, among others.
It’s a CHOW (Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse) pantry, with bulk deliveries coming from that organization.
Although it’s a storefront operation, people can’t just walk off the street to “shop” at the pantry. They must have a referral from First Call for Help to take part once a month. And if they don’t have a referral yet or have already visited for the month, volunteers will direct them to other food sources. That includes free meals that take place across the community each day of the week.
Kathy Pfaffenbach has been a volunteer at the pantry since it opened on Feb. 1. Recently retired from Catholic Charities food pantries, she finds it a way to “reconnect with families that touched my life so much and improved me as a person.”
“This is one place we can be the face of Christ to people,” Pfaffenbach said. “To me, they are the face of Christ.”