Thursday, September 23, 2021

Man Betters Community Through Food Pantry

Contributed by Gracyn Ashmore

Charleston, MS Food Pantry workers prepare to serve the community.

Joe Young spends his Saturday afternoons once a month servicing the community by working three food pantries and delivering food free of charge to the surrounding areas.

Young is a retired school teacher and pastor in Charleston. He saw a need for places to donate food to those in need, helping create three separate food pantries in the Charleston area.

The highest number of individuals the combined food pantries have served at a single time is approximately 2,300. 

The month of February brought on a need for groceries due to inclement winter weather conditions.

“A lot of what was distributed last month was purely water. But that would have been February with the winter storm here,” said Young.

The pantry delivered truckloads of water to the community. 

“We didn’t require people to come to our facilities. We delivered directly to town halls and that sort of things,” said Young.

COVID-19 has also created a need for more community members to use the resources offered by the pantry, whether that be fear of leaving their homes or loss of income.

“With the pandemic has been a tremendous increase in (need) that our people have responded to. We’ve not had to turn one person away,” said Young.

Many individuals donate to the food pantries. These donations range heavily, from five dollars to $30,000.

One member of Young’s church congregation made a tremendous donation to his ministry.

“And she said, ‘Oh Brother Joe, I was so glad I saw you today. I have something for you.’ And she pulled out an envelope already addressed to me and stamped. She said, ‘I keep forgetting to mail this, and so I stuck it in my pocket.’ I got home and was eating super, and my wife said what do you have?” said Young.

That congressional member donated $10,000 to the ministry of the food pantries. 

The pantries have stored food inside the churches since the pandemic began, and traffic throughout the church has declined.

“And with the church, for the most part closed down, except for weekly service, or two weekly services,” Young said. “We took Sunday school rooms, and we stored food.” 

There are 13 deep freezers county wide, creating a large job of having to pay attention and keep track of expiration dates. 

All funds do not get funneled into purchasing food. The pantries have also used money to help functionality. 

“I began to look for other equipment that we could find that would help our workers. We were having to pick up, I figured up at one point, every pail that we lifted, ten or eleven times. And so I built loading docks,” said Young.

This allows the pantry to better accommodate the community, especially during a crisis such as the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

“I told the donors, you know, please understand that if it’s okay with you, we’re not going to just spend it on food, but we’re going to spend it on infrastructure. So that if there’s another catastrophe like this, we will be better prepared to take care of it,” said Young.

Most of the volunteers for the pantries are around the age of 65, so that allows for them to better do their jobs. 

A need for servicing children during the Covid-19 pandemic has also increased due to schools being some children’s main source of daily food. 

“We have changed some of the foods that we order. We go heavy on breakfast cereals. I look around for foods that don’t have to be opened with a can opener, little snacks, things that kids can prepare for themselves,” said Young.

They also purchased gifts for the Christian holiday Christmas, which routinely is a time where children receive at least three gifts in December.

“At Christmas, we distributed 995 backpacks filled with age-appropriate toys and gifts, but also food items that children can open,” said Young.

The pandemic has created a need for a drive through style pantry, but the facilities have stayed servicing the community throughout a vulnerable time in many people’s lives. 

“You know, our goal is that nobody in this county would go to sleep hungry,” said Young.


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