She remembers the church’s first food pantry client. The woman, a veteran, felt embarrassed for seeking out help, said Cosette Kilfoyle, church member of Soldotna United Methodist Church.
“She would only take three items. Paper towels, toilet paper and one food item,” Kilfoyle said. “She said she’d probably never come back again. She just moved here, and she didn’t have a job.”
Two weeks later, the woman returned. Kilfoyle finds it comforting that the woman felt welcome enough to continue using the food pantry, she said.
Wednesday marked the food pantry’s fifth week of operation. Soldotna United Methodist Church members fully supported the pantry, volunteers said. The church is joining other agencies working toward feeding the Kenai Peninsula’s less fortunate. The need is visibly apparent, they said.
Troy Castimore, church member and pantry organizer, asked her church to start the food pantry. Her awareness of the issue crystallized during hours spent working at Kenai’s United Methodist Church, which operates another pantry.
She brought her know-how from Kenai’s operation.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel, but some aspects are different,” Castimore said.
Clients visit the church once a week, on Wednesdays; they choose from size-appropriate bundles of food. Church volunteers place food into black dish tubs designated for singles and couples to families of six.
The tubs are filled with items like canned fruit and vegetables, packages of ramen noodles and rolls of toilet paper. They sit atop tables in the church’s back room, one of many. Other rooms house the supplies, as a permanent area is not yet ready for use; food items line shelves and fill the church freezer.
Unlike other food pantries, the Soldotna church is allowing clients to collect perishable items, like milk and eggs, each week, rather than once monthly. With expiration dates placing a time crunch on those items, volunteers breath easy knowing they’re not wasted, Castimore said.
Since its beginnings five weeks ago, church members have offered donations and time. The church’s current pastor — as well as the previous pastor — has pushed church members toward hands-on worship and philanthropy.
“Church should be us using our hands and our hearts to do God’s work,” Castimore said. “And feeding the hungry is part of that (work).”
The Methodist church’s members also volunteer at Wildwood Correction Center and Central Peninsula Hospital. For five years, they’ve prepared breakfast twice a week at an alternative high school.
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank provides the majority of food handed out at Soldotna’s food pantry. It helps approximately 70 member agencies, said executive director Linda Swarner.
The large amount of agencies using the food bank put limitations on the amount of food and supplies provided each month. Limits on meat, eggs and milk are exercised at the nonprofit.
It would take larger donations to relax the limits, Swarner said. She commended Peninsula residents for their continued support, however.
“It’s a giving community,” she said.
The food bank will host a number of holiday food drives as the holiday season approaches. It teamed up with Era Alaska to raffle off a round-trip ticket to Anchorage for people who donate turkeys before Thanksgiving.
At noon on Wednesday at the church, a handful of volunteers sat around a plastic table chatting, waiting for clients to arrive. Church member Michele Vasquez helped the first client, asking the elderly woman if she’d like apples, lettuce or onions, or all of the above.
Vasquez packed the items into plastic bags for the woman, who talked about gossip and her health issues.
During the pantry’s first week, volunteers gave away six tubs of food. The next week that number more than doubled, but the church has helped fewer clients since permanent fund dividen checks came out, Castimore said.
Action will pick up soon enough, she said, and the pantry will continue its mission into the foreseeable future.
The Food Pantry is open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is also accepting non-perishable food donations, which may be dropped off at the church Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; or Sunday, 9 a.m. to noon. They also are accepting monetary donations.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.