The East Ridge Community Food Pantry is desperately in need of volunteers to help feed hungry families in our area.
On Wednesday, this reporter went to East Ridge Methodist Church on Prater Road where the food pantry operates to get a first-hand look at the work being done.
Danny McDowell, a 70-year-old retired plumber with the school system, has been the Director of the food pantry for eight months. He said that the pantry is packing boxes of food – which includes meat and bread donated by area grocery stores – for about 150 families.
“Our biggest problem with the pantry is finding folks to physically get their hands dirty and do the work,” McDowell said.
Currently about 25 big-hearted people are volunteering at the pantry. On the first and third Wednesday of each month from 2 to 5 p.m., the volunteers help facilitate getting boxes of food into the hands of the needy.
That’s the end result of work that is done throughout the week, McDowell said. Through the week, people are needed to go to the Publix in the Hamilton Place area to pick up 100 pounds of meat and 100 to 150 pounds of bread and pastries just before the products go out of date. The donations, which are coordinated through the Chattanooga Food Bank, are then brought back to the pantry to be either placed in the freezer or otherwise stored.
McDowell explained that he just lost a husband and wife team who had volunteered for some time.
“The man was 87-years-old and his wife was 84,” McDowell said. “They came to me crying saying that the really wanted to continue, but they just couldn’t physically do it anymore.”
McDowell said he needs people to “step up” and make a commitment of one day a week for a couple hours to go pick up food from the grocery stores. He said an SUV or a pickup truck would be needed to haul the 10 to 12 boxes food that the stores are donating.
McDowell said the funding for the pantry comes through its own efforts at East Ridge churches. The churches helping out are East Ridge Methodist, Jones Memorial, Full Gospel Korean Church, Ridgeline Church, and Action Church. The food pantry also accepts donations on line through its Facebook page.
Each box of food for the less fortunate contains staples such as pasta, peanut butter, cereal, and canned meats, fruits and vegetables. Occasionally, crackers and chips are provided by the food bank. The meat and bread comes from the donations made by Publix.
McDowell said the East Ridge Community Food Bank is in the running to have food donated twice a week from Aldi at Hamilton Place. The current problem is having the manpower committed to retrieve the donations.
“What this would mean is that the folks we serve would get a larger selection of protein for their diets,” he said. “There would be more chicken, burgers and pork items.”
McDowell said the pantry asks few questions of those they serve. One must have a driver’s license or social security card for identification purposes. This requirement by the federal government and the Chattanooga Food Bank is for “accountability” to get an idea of who the food pantry is serving.
The spectrum of the hungry is “across the board,” McDowell said. The pantry serves single mothers, working people who find it difficult at this time of year to buy school supplies and put food on the table, and grandparents who have extended families living with them.
If you want to help, McDowell said to reach out to him on the Facebook page. Better yet, make a phone call to Jones Memorial (423-624-6073) tell the church secretary you are interested in helping and she will get you in touch with McDowell.
“Finding folks to get involved is extremely hard,” he said.