In 2013, a decision was made at Brownstown Elementary School to start what would later become the backpack program. The original idea was to provide food for children in the Brownstown school district and their younger siblings. On Thursday afternoons, teachers, school employees, or volunteers from the community would come to the school and pack two breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and snacks in backpacks which would then be sent home with the students over the weekend. This year however, the school is considering downsizing the food sent home to two breakfasts and two snacks which will be sent home in a large ziploc bag. This decision was made after considering the fact that a food pantry recently opened in Brownstown. This new source of help to the community appears promising, and will help to support everyone which the backpack program cannot.
In the basement of the United Methodist Church in Brownstown, the Helping Hands Ministry food pantry opened their doors for business in August of 2015. While the program has only been in operation for one month, the plans have been in the process for at least the past eight months when the application was sent into the Midwest Food Bank which supplies the food for the pantry. The inspiration behind starting a food pantry was when the United Methodist Church partnered with Catholic Charities and ran a food giveaway. While running the giveaway, Don Thomas who was behind most of the planning, and others involved saw the need in the community. Once a month Don takes a trip to the Midwest Food Bank in Bloomington and loads a trailer with foods such as vegetables, boxed or bagged foods, and even some frozen items such as chicken.
The inaugural opening of the program was a success in the eyes of the volunteers. There were between twelve and fifteen volunteers to help pack the boxes and distribute them to the people in need. In addition, the pantry served fifty-eight families in the area which transferred into one hundred and eighty-five people, and expect more in September. The pantry will have two food giveaways every month. Septembers dates are the twelfth and the fourteenth from ten o'clock in the morning until noon at the church. Anyone who needs help can come to the church, sign in, and then someone will give them a box that has been packed with food. While the program is accessible to anyone in need, there is a limit of one box per household.
Currently Helping Hands Ministries is run entirely on donations from area churches and individuals. This includes help from students in the BHS National Honor Society which is being organized for future giveaways. Any donation or volunteer work will be accepted, and if interested in helping, contact Don or the church at (618) 427-3803. They are considering a fundraiser to purchase new equipment such as freezers, but no official plans have been made as of yet. Don is hoping that like the Midwest Food Bank, Helping Hands will grow and upgrade to a single story building sometime in the future. The Midwest Food Bank started out as a farmer and his wife giving away their vegetables and eventually grew into a 100,000 square foot building that supplies products for many food pantries like Helping Hands. Don is thankful for all of the people who are willing to fund and operate the pantry, and has high expectations for the future.
by Chloe Carson
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