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Spirit of Giving Brings Joy to Volunteers at The Pantry

The Pantry benefits from Oxford’s giving spirit over the holidays, but Director of Food Distribution John Kohne says the one thing lacking during their busiest contribution period is volunteers. 

“We never lack in food and food product because there is a kind and very giving heart in Lafayette County,” Kohne said. “Because it’s the holiday season, everybody comes out of the woodwork with both money or in canned goods. We don’t have to buy very much at all over that period of time.”
With an average of 1,100 to 1,200 people using The Pantry’s services on a monthly basis, Kohne said it takes the help of about 180 volunteers, or 540 man-hours, to supply the community’s need.
Fortunately, 14 church congregations in Lafayette County lend helping hands to keep The Pantry running smoothly.
Volunteers spend Tuesdays stocking and preparing for clients to come through on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We need at least 10 to 12 people to help take the clients through the process of getting all their groceries, providing them their fruit bags, snack bags, chickens,” Kohne said. “We also have to have people to push the carts and help the people get the stuff out to their cars, load their cars and then bring the carts back in.”
Kohne oversees all food donations made to The Pantry, and volunteers help him pick up, unload and organize deliveries from various contributors, such as Mid-South Food Bank and Larson’s Cash Saver.
Finding volunteer help for the food distribution side of the things comes quite easily, but finding the right volunteers for screening clients is a bit more challenging.
“We’re looking for seasoned people that have the ability and desire to counsel and help people,” Kohne said. “Right now, we’re at a low point [in terms of volunteer counselors], but we try to find people that are willing to work one-on-one to do this kind of counseling, which takes a little bit extra rather than just to show up and help load cars.”
Conny Parham, The Pantry’s director of screeners, spends most of her time counseling and training other volunteers to screen clients.
“The one absolutely, positively firm requirement that we have is that they [clients] be residents of Lafayette County,” Parham said.
Clients must present a photo ID and a Social Security number for each resident of the household and show some sort of proof that they live in Lafayette County.
The Pantry’s primary focus is to provide temporary assistance, but Parham and Kohne both place extra effort on spending time with clients to better understand their situations.
“We care in all aspects of whatever’s going on in their life, not just food,” Kohne said. “Our focus is food, but if we can get them to some of the other agencies to get other supplemental help, whatever they need, then that’s what we’re all about.”
Kohne moved to Oxford in 2010 and decided he would spend his time “giving back” to a nonprofit in 2012 shortly after retiring. After all, as he likes to joke, aggravating his wife didn’t keep him quite as busy as expected. 
“I’ve been blessed in my life. I really have,” Kohne said. “I’ve had two wonderful careers. I have two wonderful daughters that live here in Oxford. So this is my give-back, so to speak, for the Lord taking care of me. It gives me fulfillment and gratification that I’m doing something for someone in need.
“And it gets me out of the house so my wife doesn’t get annoyed,” he laughed.
The Pantry is open from 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesdays for clients under the age of 65 and on Thursdays for ages 65 and older. Those interested in donating or volunteering can call 662-832-8001 or visit The Pantry at 713 Molly Barr Road in Oxford.

By Randall Haley, associate editor of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at randall.haley@hottytoddy.com.

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