As a food writer, with most of my current life centered on eating, I felt a passion to give back and help feed those who are having hard times.
My journey started with reaching out to Heather Priest at The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia; she sent me a list of food resources around DeLand.
I saw that Stetson Baptist Church was listed, and gave the number a call. A very friendly Pastor Brad Gwartney answered, and he gave my information to Carmen Mack, the contact person for the Stetson Baptist Food Pantry.
Within the hour, I received a call from Mack, who was thrilled, enthusiastic and eager to help me volunteer.
Stetson Baptist Church offers a food pantry open to the public 1-4 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month.
The food pantry receives support from Publix supermarket, Publix customers, Flowers Discount Bakery and members of Stetson Baptist Church. Pantry volunteers make up bags of food each month, filled with nonperishable items such as beans, cereal, rice, soup, canned meats and more.
“We have seen huge development in the last 10 years, starting with only five shelves of food to a full pantry,” Senior Pastor Dr. Dan Glenn said.
One of the reasons for the growth is the energy of volunteers and church members. Kay Cogburn has been working with the Stetson Baptist Food Pantry for 12 years, and Carmen Mack has been helping for nine years, for example.
The food pantry has grown from giving away 40 bags of food to 200 bags of food a month.
“Tom Still, a church member who also works for Publix, helps get donations of pallets of food to the church to disperse to the community,” Pastor Dan said.
Stetson Baptist makes and posts a “needs” list, and the church family donates and fills those needs.
I shadowed Carmen Mack to put myself in her selfless shoes. The Wednesday before the food pantry opens its doors, there is plenty of work to be done.
First, I learned the list of food items that go into each bag.
After 200 bags are filled, the volunteers take them on carts to the sanctuary, where we lined them one by one in the pews.
The next day, bright and early, Mack and the other volunteers set up tables in the driveway loop in front of the church. They got ready for the day by making tea and lemonade, setting up cookie trays, and setting up a prayer table for anyone who might come needing or wanting to pray.
Each month, the volunteers pool their money to buy lunch. When everything is set up, they eat while discussing the month’s news.
About five minutes before opening the pantry, all the volunteers stand in a circle around the bags of food, hold hands, pray, bless the food, and give thanks for the day and for being able to give back and to be of service to God.
The doors open, and a line has already formed. Mack has Christian music playing as volunteers hand out lemonade and cookies to those waiting in line, while other volunteers pass out bags of food.
Volunteers help carry food bags to the cars of those who are unable to carry their own.
The people who came for food seemed to be from all walks of life and cultures. Some are disabled veterans, some working-age people who have fallen on hard times. I saw a range that went from children to people in their 80s. Some appeared to be homeless, but we didn’t ask.
There were couples, families, even a fellow on a bicycle. One person had an oxygen tank sitting in the car.
“God bless you for helping us,” this individual said when I put a bag of food in the car.
The Stetson Baptist Church Food Pantry doesn’t require any documentation of need. You show up, and no questions are asked. Each person gets a bag of food.
The pantry gives out food until the 200 bags are gone, and then starts to prepare again for the next month.
Sometimes, for example, if it’s raining heavily on pantry day, not all the bags are given away. They can be used next month.
More likely, the food runs out before the people who need it do. Sometimes it’s gone by 2:30 p.m.
When this happens, the food pantry volunteers are ready to suggest other food pantries and other sources for help. If the need is dire, Mack will even make phone calls on the people’s behalf.
Stetson Baptist Church also donates snack items to Citrus Grove Elementary School in DeLand.
“Some students would come to school and not have a snack during snack time, and teachers were paying out of their own pocket to help, so we donate snacks,” Pastor Dan said.
In June, the food pantry expanded its service again. Hispanic Health Initiatives started giving free health screenings for blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and BMI, next to the food pantry.
This was a humbling experience that filled me with joy. What a blessing to be able to help people, and see the look of gratitude in their eyes.