Food bank fulfills promise to serve
In transitioning from a cramped, non-air-conditioned corner of a local church to a spacious and accessible facility all its own, Marion County Food Bank, now known as Marion County Resource Center and Food Bank, faced high expectations for improved quality of service.
“It’s exceeded,” Gerry Henderson said, “in all cases.”
Henderson was appointed earlier this summer as chairman of a new five-member board for the food bank, which now is run through Marion Advancement Campaign.
MAC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, allowing its donors to receive tax write-offs. Its capabilities for accepting larger donations, coupled with its facility at 1220 E. Main St., have led to a usage boom.
Henderson, of Marion, said where the bank was feeding between 80 and 100 families a month at Valley United Methodist Church, the new facility has provided for an average of 219 adult users per month in its first two months of operation.
Henderson and city administrator Roger Holter approached county commissioners Monday about receiving $3,000 to pay utility fees. At that meeting, Holter said 54 adults and 38 kids used the food bank on Thursday alone, receiving 350 pounds of meat and 600 pounds of canned goods and vegetables.
Volunteers and those that use the food bank have helped in dispelling any stigma associated with taking free supplies.
“Volunteers go out of their way to make people who come to the food bank comfortable to come there,” Henderson said. “It’s just all positive. That word gets around very quickly: ‘Hey, that’s not an embarrassing place.’”
The food bank’s clientele has become countywide, with many individuals carpooling, Henderson said. Individuals from every community except Durham, Tampa, and Ramona have used its services.
It’s a good thing, Henderson said, but it’s been hard to keep up.
“While the demand has doubled, the supply keeping up with it has not,” Henderson said. “What I’ve got to find is people who care that there are people going hungry in Marion County.”
He said a national program called “Invest an Acre” allows farmers to donate grain and have their donation matched when returned to Feeding America food banks, such as the one in Wichita to which the county food bank has access. Through it, large donations to the food bank, which are now tax deductible, can be doubled.
One of the main reasons the food bank has gotten more use, Henderson said, was a change in hours. The former facility’s hours were 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Thursday. At the new facility, the Thursday shift has been moved to the evening, allowing for the working poor to have time to go get supplies.
“The first two hours are an absolute mob,” he said. “Respectful people, nice people, thankful people. Still, with that many, we have to figure out what we can do to make it better so we just are not rushing that place, to get some flow through it.”
The three-hour Thursday shift was originally 5 to 8 p.m. but will be moved up a half hour to begin at 4:30 p.m., which is when Henderson said people begin congregating near the food bank anyway.
The food bank will look to expand its services over time to provide more than food, Henderson said. A 4-H club’s book swap program was recently added to the Thursday shift.
“The transition, while not smooth, has been manageable,” Henderson said. “Mainly because we’ve had magnificent people willing to help us and because of Gene Winkler’s giving nature. That’s just who he is: He’s a giver.”
Winkler helped organize the expansion through his involvement with MAC and a connection to the Wichita Food Bank. He’s an ex officio member of the food bank board through MAC.
Henderson is chairman of the food bank board, which includes Janet Bryant, Jan Helmer, Charlotte Coleman, Jackie Volbrecht, and Linda Ogden, all of Marion. Henderson said their previous involvement with the city food bank was why they were selected, but if a position opens up, the board may look to fill it with a non-Marion resident.
Henderson was made chairman because of his involvement with Shared Sundays at Marion Presbyterian Church. Once a month, the congregation would bring a collection of food over to the bank at Valley United Methodist.
“In four years, we were never unable to pretty well supply that little food bank once a month,” Henderson said. “So my thought was if one congregation could make that much difference, what would happen if we did indeed attempt to expand it to a countywide program?”
Henderson said his efforts to help feed those in need are a direct result of his Christian faith. He explained as much to commission chairman Dan Holub at Monday’s meeting.
“Dan, it’s Biblical,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing it.”