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Refurbished trailer new home of Mt. Zion Church's food pantry

December 01, 2010 | 08:35 AM
Lyons — It looks like an ordinary house trailer, 12 feet wide by 60 feet long.

But to 20 or more families in the Mt. Zion Church area, this ordinary trailer, the new home of the Mt. Zion Food Pantry, is a place of hope in hard times.

This past spring, an anonymous donor offered the pantry a used trailer, said Chris Smith, Mt. Zion's financial assistant, who also coordinates volunteers for the church's social programs.

Smith said the interior of the trailer looks like the kind used at construction sites, with a large central room flanked by two smaller rooms.

It took nearly six months to get the trailer ready for the pantry. The long preparation time was because all of the work and materials were donated, Smith said.

Marie Howe of Springfield, the lead volunteer for the pantry, said waiting for the pantry's new home to open made her feel like a youngster waiting for Christmas.

"I'm like a little child with a new toy," laughed Howe. "I've been waiting for this for so long."

Still, the timing couldn't have been better. The food pantry opened at its new location the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Howe makes sure there are enough people to operate the pantry, which is open on Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m.

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"We gear up for Thanksgiving. We focus on that meal, with all the traditional ingredients," said Howe.

Between 20 and 21 families are served in a week, although more can show up for holidays, Howe said.

A bag opened at the pantry contained, in addition to a turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and even some of the trimmings, like Jello, applesauce and graham cracker piecrust for pumpkin pie.

Howe said she's been working with the Mt. Zion food pantry for the past three years, although she has experience with food pantries elsewhere.

Originally from Memphis, Howe said she did volunteer work in Tennessee and later in Illinois, where she worked as an emergency services dispatcher in Sandwich and Plano, Ill.

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The food pantry used to operate out of the main church building. Everything was stored in a room near the gymnasium, Howe said. Volunteers would have to set up food distribution in the gym, and then take everything down and store it away after the pantry closed, she said.

The beige trailer is located on a permanent site behind the church. Signs point the way from the front entrance.

The trailer is handicapped accessible, with wide wooden ramps that lead to a large wooden patio.

On the patio is a gas grille. Smith said the pantry volunteers plan have cookouts for food pantry recipients during the summer months.

On the inside, the small room on the north end of the trailer is used to distribute the bags of food. The room on the south end is a waiting room.

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The large central room is used for meeting with food recipients and counseling, Smith said.

Most of the recipients are members of Mt. Zion church, Howe said.

Volunteers sit at three tables and talk with food recipients to see if there is anything they can do to help, Howe said.

At the tables are devotional materials along with pamphlets from Walworth County on where to find social services and other assistance.

"We help them nutritionally and spiritually," Howe said.

The pantry keeps some simple files on recipients, which record name, address, phone number, number of children and who to pray for, she said.

However, no one is required to receive spiritual assistance if he or she does not want it, Howe added.

In fact, there are no requirements of any kind on the recipients, Howe said.

"They don't have to prove anything to us," she said.

Paston John LaGalbo, who is in charge of the pantry, focuses on the dignity of the people who need the pantry, Howe said.

Food for the pantry is provided through food drives and donations from other pantrieds and corporate contributors.

Mt. Zion has a food drive every three months, said Smith.

Most of the contributions come from the church, she said.

Panera Bread, Delavan, a local restaurant, makes regular contributions, as does a local food pantry in Lake Geneva, Smith said.

The Walworth County Agricultural Society and the farm bureau provide grants to the church to buy milk and, sometimes, cheese.

The pantry does not supply butter.

Meanwhile, the pantry still does have some minor needs.

Howe said she's looking for a small desk.

Right now she uses two small tables for her workspace, where she keeps the files on the families receiving aid.

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Walworth County