Episcopal Church of the Ascension outreach program serves nearly 10,000 people a year

HEAVENLY HAUL Red Door Food Pantry tackles local hunger

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A 10-person assembly line unloaded about 5,000 pounds of penne pasta, pears, Vienna sausages and other items Thursday at the Red Door Food Pantry. Even more impressive, they managed to get the two and half ton shipment of cookies, vegetarian lasagna, mandarin oranges and canned tuna off the truck and on the racks in approximately half an hour.

It's actually a smaller shipment than usual for the Episcopal Church of the Ascension outreach program. The pantry at 201 West Cherokee Ave. normally gets loads in the 7,000-8,000 pound range; they've even gotten shipments as big as 12,000 pounds in the past. 

It's nonetheless business as usual for 37-year-old Jeff Tindall, the pantry's logistics coordinator.

The third Thursday of each month he and volunteers from throughout the community band together to restock the shelves with fresh shipments of black eyed peas, sweet corn and pancake mix.

His mother, 69-year-old Karen Tindall, serves as the program's volunteer coordinator. 

"About half of our clientele are older people, and they may only be living on Social Security," she said. "We have families with children who come here, and they're working families. They just don't make enough money to pay rent, clothe their kids and pay for food."

From June 2017 to June 2018, she said the pantry distributed 83,415 pounds — that's close to 41.8 tons — of food to 3,313 households. She estimates the pantry fed about 9,700 people over that 12-month window.

While the pantry itself is over 20 years old, its current operators took the helm of the program about five years ago.

"My wife Tiffany got the affiliation with the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) along with Bill Dial," Jeff said. "That allowed us to purchase food at a greatly discounted price. Before that, we were buying everything retail and we had a very small operation ... so we've grown immensely since then."

He said the majority of their shipments come from the ACFB. "They get donations and the United States Department of Agriculture ships it to them from different vendors and they allow us to purchase it, usually, for no more than 16 cents a pound," he said. "So we're able to stretch the dollars very far."

And it's not just canned foods, pre-packaged desserts and bottles of vitamins and shampoo. The pantry — thanks to a small armada of refrigerators and freezers — is also able to store fresh produce and meats.

"When we get towards the winter months, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, we do a lot more," he said. "This year, we may even have a few multiple loads."

Although the pantry does see its fair share of disabled clients, Karen said most of the people who partake of its services have jobs. 

"They just don't have enough money, so I'm glad that we're here and able to help," she said. "I don't think anybody should go to bed hungry. I just think we have to help each other out, and I'm glad that our church and our community partners are willing to help people in Bartow that need it."

They also offer a mobile food service to make deliveries to more remote parts of the county — particularly, to families living along the Glade Road corridor. The Bartow County UGA Extension Office, as part of its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education services,  also partners with the pantry for its series of Food Talk classes.

The high volume at the pantry, Jeff said, highlights the severity of food insecurity in the local community.

"We see families with small children who come by and need help, particularly as you get into the school year, and we see middle class families. Say someone loses a job. That can be any one of us, any time," he said.

He said he's taken aback by just how many people — perhaps accustom to the more bureaucratic design of other social services — show up at the pantry with tax forms and bank statements in tow. 

"We don't need any of that," he said. "We just want to be able to help people who need it."

To Jeff, helping the hungry is a fundamental service. Providing those in need with their daily bread (and beans, and beef stew) may not solve all of their problems, but it at least knocks one worry off their long list of concerns. 

"Our hope is being able to facilitate that access to food helps alleviate those basic necessities and allows them to focus on improving their overall situation," he said. "We want to give people a hand up, not a handout."

More information on the food pantry's services — as well as more details on their volunteer opportunities — is online at www.facebook.com/reddoorfood.