The Pantry is Full
by Xander Norris
The overabundance of food donations creates a problem for The Pantry of Oxford and Lafayette County during the holiday season.
John Kohne, director of food distribution for The Pantry, says that from October to January, The Pantry experiences an exponential increase in canned, dried and frozen food donations, which causes the food bank’s available storage space to decrease dramatically. Even though he admits finding space for all of the product is difficult, Kohne says The Pantry is grateful for all the food donations it receives during the holiday season as it helps feed around 500 food-insecure families in Oxford and Lafayette County, which has a food insecurity rating of 18.9%.
“It’s a good problem to have in that we do have product to put on the shelves, and we can make it work,” Kohne said. “Especially from October through May, we can handle it.”
While there is room for most of The Pantry’s extra dry product in both of their 6-by-12-foot storage units, Kohne says space fills up when local organizations like the Oxford Night Owls Motorcycle Civic Club and the 100 Men of Oxford and Lafayette County Club donate massive amounts of canned and dried goods to The Pantry. Last November and December, Kohne says the Night Owls held two big weekend food rushes and donated about seven thousand cans of food to The Pantry.
“It’s such an immense amount of food, and we have to sort it, get through it, and then get it out, but all that food we have to do something with it, and that’s the challenge,” Kohne said. “Dealing with the heavy, heavy amount of food that we get in October, November, December and January.”
To help with the influx of donations and clients during the holidays, The Pantry partners with 12 churches in Oxford and Lafayette County.
Each month one of those churches brings in at least 12 volunteers to unload all of the product from the trucks and stock the shelves with enough food to serve 125 families a week. Pantry clients are only eligible to receive food if they are at or below the income guidelines set by The Emergency Food Assistance Program, a federal program that aids low-income Americans with emergency food assistance for free.
Carol Wedge, The Pantry’s manager during November, says that last year The Pantry served 102 families on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and 98 families on Thanksgiving Day. Wedge says that the support from Oxford’s churches and other local organizations helps the food bank operate smoothly during the busiest time of the year.
“It really helps the week before Christmas and Thanksgiving, it’s busier,” Wedge said.
Besides the 12 local churches, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) — a nationwide program that enhances retirement for seniors by sending volunteer talent to work at local organizations — also helps out at The Pantry during the holidays.
One of the volunteers for RSVP, Clarissa Jordan, said that even though it was her first time, she enjoyed helping out at The Pantry in November.
“Well, I enjoy helping people, the people who work here are nice and you feel like you’re doing something for other people,” Jordan said. “It’s enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun.”
The time of year that The Pantry doesn’t need as many volunteers is during the summer months. Kohne says that the lack of donations from May — July forces The Pantry to draw food from the Mid-South Food Bank’s supply or purchase supplemental food from Larson’s Cash Savers.
“In May, June and July people are thinking about vacation, where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do,” Kohne said. “They are not dropping off ten to thirty dollars or cases of food to the food bank.”