Member Agency Spotlight: St. John’s Congregational Church

Kathy Henry

St. John’s Congregational Church Food Pantry in Springfield serves the Mason Square neighborhood. Kathy Henry, volunteer intake coordinator, describes St. John’s work; the challenges their clients face and their relationship with The Food Bank.‌‌‌

FBWMA: How long has St. John’s Congregational Church been operating a food pantry?

KH: St. John’s Food Pantry has been in operation over 25 years. It’s operated by 20 volunteers who work in the pantry 2-4 days per week. We perform the intake of new customers, process repeat customers, process monthly & annual reports, pack and set up food for distribution, provide recommendation for other services, and assist in helping elderly or handicapped customers with their groceries.

Occasionally, home delivery is provided to persons who are unable to get out of their homes to come shop. Our volunteers also provide encouraging words to many of our customers who are experiencing many difficulties.

FBWMA: Who are the clients you serve, and what are some of the challenges they face?

Clients Leave with Groceries

KH: St. John’s Food pantry serves the elderly, disabled, homeless, and persons in need. The challenges our customers face are: (1) their fixed incomes are not enough to cover household bills and groceries; (2) loss of jobs, (3) loss of homes, (4) rising food prices, and (5) single parents trying to feed their families.

The number of households served in 2016 increased 62% to 2,277 families compared to 1,416 families in 2015.  The 2,277 households in 2016 consisted of 4,335 family members and the 1,416 households in 2015 consisted of 2,694.

FBWMA: What kinds of food items are people asking for (or picking up) and how great is the need for your services? Also, what other services are clients using to get the food that they need?

KH: People are primarily requesting meat, produce and dairy products. We also receive many requests for infant formula, baby food and pampers, which we can only provide if donations are made.  The 62% increase in the amount of households served represents the great need of the food pantry in our community.

Most of our customers utilize other pantries or meal sites in the area [as well].  St. John’s Church also provides a meal site one day per week and this information is posted and shared with our customers coming to the pantry.

FBWMA: You’re working with the Mason Square Network. Please explain the purpose of this collaboration.

KH: The Mason Square Network is a collaboration of churches that have come together to provide healthier diets for members of the community. [We] are working within the collaboration to establish a grocery store in the community to attempt to keep the dollars spent on groceries in the local community.

FBWMA: Describe your relationship with The Food Bank and the kinds of service you receive from us.

Volunteer Distributes Food

KH: The St. John’s Food Pantry receives deliveries from The Food Bank weekly…we also utilize the Oasis database [with the help of The Food Bank] for intake and reporting purposes, and our volunteers attend the meetings provided by The Food Bank in order to stay abreast of upcoming changes and procedural updates.

FBWMA: You recently established a relationship with Stop & Shop to receive donations of  frozen meats. How has this relationship helped your program or made a difference?

KH: The relationship established with Stop & Shop has increased our meat supply to allow us to provide our customers with a choice of two or three different meats of their preference. In the past we were only able to provide one meat per household of one to four people.

St. John’s Congregational Church Food Pantry

FBWMA: What is the most memorable story that you have about a client who received help from the food pantry?

A young mother with six children lost her refrigerator and all of its contents. She had no money to replace the food or feed her children. Upon intake, she was in panic mode due to not being sure if she had to meet certain criteria in order to get some food. It was gratifying to explain to her that this type of situation is our primary obligation—to fee God’s people in need.

FBWMA: What do you hope for the future of St. John’s Food Pantry?

KH: That we will one day have a large, handicap accessible building to make the visit for the handicapped and elderly easier and safer, with hopes of reducing the amount of time they spend outside and waiting in line. We’d also like to increase our hours of operation to include evening hours for people who may not always have the ability to come during current hours of operation.