Operating a food pantry takes more than just handing out a box. The volunteers at the Olive Branch Emergency Food Pantry must arrange for grocery pickups for store donations, finding extra frozen turkeys to meet a certain number of families in need, repainting their storage area and above all, remember Jesus Christ’s words in Matthew 25: 35-40.
It was all hands on deck Tuesday night at the pantry as the organization met in anticipation of the holiday seasons and the expected increase in community needs.
The pantry operates near the intersection of Old Highway 78 and Hacks Cross, right beside the Olive Branch Thrift Store.
Volunteers coordinate donated food items and groceries to meet community needs of low income and impoverished residents.
Funding also is sourced from individuals, churches, and various organizations. The building, office space, and other related expenses are supported with help from the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors, the city of Olive Branch, and the United Way of the Mid-South.
Organizers and volunteers meet to discuss, among other issues, the collection of items to be added in their baskets for this year’s Christmas basket giveaway.
To meet the expected needs of the surrounding community, 250 count of each item is required to fill the Christmas baskets. Toilet paper, paper towels, deodorant, toothbrushes, hand sanitizer, Christmas cards, hats and pairs of gloves are the top needed items currently, 250 of each to fill the baskets according to Sheila Sneed, administrator of the pantry.
“We have enough toothpaste, we do not have enough toothbrushes,” said Sneed during the meeting. “Any other church or organization can contribute. What we’re doing is putting a few items in a basket instead of just giving a gift card.”
“Let us know if you’re going to be doing that, by emailing, calling or message us on Facebook,” said Micheal Carpenter, director of the food pantry.
The pantry recently received 60 frozen turkeys and had started to give them away during normal operating hours instead of saving them for the holidays.
“I thought we’d just purchase (additional) turkeys this year for Thanksgiving,” Sneed explained. “You can’t find turkeys right now. So, we gave out what we had, but so far haven’t been able to come up with more turkeys.”
A local meat market manager told Sneed that even the prospect of ordering hams is uncertain right now.
Baskets go out the first Thursday in December. Sneed and others are still seeking additional donations for food.
Carpenter also expressed during the meeting the need for new signage at the pantry for more visibility. A new heavy duty sign with the food pantry info on one half and the thrift store info on the other features bright colors and larger lettering than the current signs.
Carpenter explained later the traffic for the pantry is about to increase.
“With the holiday season coming up we often get a lot of donations, which is good. We also have more people coming in as well,” said Carpenter. “Giving away our Christmas bags usually brings in more folks when the word gets out in the community. A lot of the clients know each other and they’ll show up in bigger numbers in November and December. Any help that can be given is great.”
Two of the biggest donors to the pantry are Walmart and Kroger grocery stores. Clients are able to shop the donated items housed at the pantry.
“We get dry food items, canned goods from the stores,” Carpenter said. “Clients come in like a drive-thru, we give them a box of dry items, then two or three cars at a time can come in and shop produce, lettuce, apples and fresh items. That’s when we also give out our meats, dairy or eggs as well.
We do have some individuals that give as well. It’s all appreciated, some even give their tax dividends. That’s helpful for us as well,” Carpenter added.
With limited storage capacity, the pantry can only accept some much in donated food.
“Our clients are grateful for everything, they make it last,” explained Carpenter. “We also thank our community and we plan to continue serving as long as the community will allow us to.”
The pantry is currently operating with a budget of $124,508.41. A copy of the reconciliation summary was made available at the meeting to attendees.
Donations accepted can be monetary or simply donating food directly to the pantry. Donations can be dropped off Mondays 9-11 a.m.; Tuesdays 9-10 a.m. and 11 a.m. -12 p.m.; and on Thursdays 9-11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Call 662.895.2913 and leave a message for more information or email to [email protected]
Volunteers are also needed to unload donations, sort, and stock during the week, serve the clients on Tuesdays or Thursdays, and help with special events and fundraisers.
“Sign up as an individual or organize a group from your church or organization to be a part of this ministry. Contact us to sign up or to request more information,” according to the pantry’s website.
The pantry is open on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Thursdays, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.