Reed City food pantry keeping up with demands

REED CITY — Being able to make sure all of his neighbors have enough food on their table to provide meals for them and their family members is a daily concern for Burley Russell.

As the coordinator at the food pantry at St. Philip Neri in Reed City, Russell said the winter months prove to be the time of year when he sees the greatest need among those seeking food.

"There are a lot of people who are hungry who need food but don't have food," he said. "When it comes to this time of year, for many, it's a 'heat or eat' issue. This way, they get something to eat."

The pantry is open from 1 to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and serves families from Reed City, Paris, Hersey and Chase, in Lake County. In November, the pantry had 202 families, with a total of 568 people eating 3,969 meals.

Providing those in need with food can be a daunting task, but Russell said it is made easier because of the widespread support.

"We get a lot of donations," he said. "The Boys Scouts donate, as does Trinity Lutheran Church. They just delivered two truckloads of food. Churches here in Reed City work together, which you don't see too often.

"We also receive excellent support from the community, from the post office or schools and the Boy and Girl Scouts doing food drives, as well as getting specials at Vic's Supermarket. It helps with what we get from American Feeding in Cadillac, where other food is ordered from."

For Russell, the needs of the pantry's clients goes beyond food.

"We try to give out a little extra than what a lot of pantries do," he said. "I like to keep toilet paper, hand towels, shampoo, bars of soap, laundry soap on hand for them to take. Those demands aren't always met at other places, but that's something people need, too."

Russell is the first to say he doesn't do this alone, as a corps of more than 70 volunteers step up to help. The volunteers do a variety of things, from organizing volunteers and stocking shelves to unloading semi-truck deliveries and helping clients receive their food. Russell said he also has volunteers to help with writing grants or helping with orders.

Reed City resident Bernice Graham volunteers time each month at the food pantry, helping clients select the food they wish, from canned goods to meat.

"I just like to help and please the people," she said. "You get to meet them and know them. It's sad when someone you know walks in the door. You just wish you had a pocketful of money to help them."

Despite clients being able to utilize the food pantry only six times a year, Russell said he tries to assist clients as much as he can, pointing them in the direction of another pantry or organization that can help them.

"I really try to do all I can for people," he said. "There are folks who do abuse the pantry. There aren't very many, but I do see it happen. Then, you turn around, and you see clients decline food because they don't eat it or already have some. That really just helps others have the chance to get food they desperately need."

Russell said finances for the pantry are down right now, but donations continue to come through the door.

"We do not have a whole lot extra, but we have a little extra," he said. "We were able to give out turkeys for Thanksgiving to folks, and I try to do that every year.

"I probably won't be able to give out hams for Christmas, but we're going to try to make sure that they get a good meal."

Russell, who retired downstate and moved to the area, continues to be surprised by the support from local businesses and community organizations.

"Whether it's Yoplait who donates Kellogg's items to us two or three times a year or the VFW giving cash donations, it's pretty good for a community this size," he said. "The community is excellent here and they help keep the pantry going. From the Scouts to the church administrations, they all keep it going.

"We can't thank the area and community ENOUGH that we're serving enough for all the support we get. Obviously, we could always use more donations or more canned goods. However, we are making it. We struggle at times, but appreciate everything that his community does for us."

For more information about the pantry, call Russell at (231) 872-0420.