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By Pat Pratt
For more than a decade, 85-year-old Gertie Gebhart has been volunteering at the lone food pantry in Troy, a labor of love she won’t be giving up anytime soon.
“There will be a day,” Gebhart said. “But you know what – it’s not today.”
Gebhart was one of several volunteers interviewed this week who staff Ministries Unlimited in Troy, which also serves surrounding communities and rural areas in the Triad School District. For the pantry, the past few years have been challenging. A pandemic followed by an extended period of inflation has led many households to struggle to make ends meet.
But through it all, the volunteers say they would not trade their roles for anything.
Gebhart started fighting food insecurity years ago, helping at St. Jerome’s collect food after mass. She also helped with the Boy Scouts and other food drives. Through that time, she had two knee surgeries but continued to do the work.
“I just enjoy the people and I get to see what’s going on around town,” Gebhart said.
Don Yann shares the same sense of community and has been helping at the pantry for three to four years. He says in addition to the positive benefits of helping others, volunteering at the pantry helps him socialize and get out of the house.
“I think volunteering is important for the health of the community,” Yann said. “And for my health, my mental health and spiritual health. I feel like I am more isolated if I don’t come out and do things like this. And this helps me get out in the community and meet and associate with people I never would otherwise.”
For Cindy Gorsage, who has been volunteering at the pantry for more than a year, the reasons are related to faith and a commitment she’s made to helping the less fortunate.
“I feel like we are doing God’s work, helping people in need,” Gorsage said. “And it makes me realize how blessed I am.”
Without these volunteers and others like them, the pantry would cease to exist, director Kathy Scheller said.
“This place would not exist without the support from the community, support from the churches and all the volunteers,” Scheller said.
A typical day for the volunteers might involve many of the same taks one might have at a grocery store or other retail outlet – stocking shelves, making sure the products are fresh or usable, and taking inventory. The pantry in recent months moved to a new model where clients shop for themselves with volunteers helping, which Scheller said has been a great success.
“You get more of a personal experience with individuals,” Scheller said. “Instead of how it used to be – fill the bag, put it in the car and they drive off. Now they talk to you and you hear a little bit of their story, from their side. It’s more of a heartfelt connection.”
Since the pandemic, the number of clients at the pantry has decreased. While that may sound like a good thing, some, like Gebhart, say it may not be. She and others are concerned about what happened to all the families who were receiving assistance at that time, who are now no longer coming to the pantry.
“I used to have 20 calls on a Wednesday for a pickup on Thursday,” Gebart said. “And now, tomorrow is Thursday and I’ve only four. It’s really slowing down and we can’t imagine what’s happened to all these people that were getting it. Where are they?”
According to the nonprofit Feeding America, more than 28,000 people in Madison County face food insecurity about 10.7 percent of the population overall. All of the volunteers we spoke with last week agreed, food insecurity is still a problem, locally and beyond.
“Definitely,” Scheller said. “There are a lot of times we go to the store and we can’t get stuff. So being able to afford it and the skyrocketing prices, they all play a role in whether or not you can put food on the table.”
For the food pantry to continue helping many local families put food on the table, it will take the continued support of the community. Donations are accepted 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday and Friday and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Donations can include cash, checks and food items. All contributions are tax deductible.
“It’s a growing need,” Scheller said. “If they (the community) can help support us either by donating food or time or donating financially, that can help us tremendously.”