Neighborhood Pantries Connect People Through Food
“One day my mom was really sad because we didn’t have any food. Then she remembered that day was grocery pick-up day at my school food pantry. We were so happy we didn’t have to miss dinner.”
This is the story of a young girl whose family benefits from the MUST Ministries Neighborhood Pantry in her school. Stories like hers are becoming more common. One in four children in Georgia don’t have enough to eat, according to Atlanta Community Food Bank statistics. With 60% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, it is not surprising that food instability is an issue in our communities.
For 47 years, the leadership and volunteers at MUST Ministries have worked to tackle the challenges of hunger. Neighborhood pantries are active in 39 schools across Cherokee County as well as Acworth, Marietta and Smyrna, with plans to open more.
“Because transportation is a problem, having pantries inside our schools makes the food
much more accessible for those in need,” said Kaye Cagle, vice president of marketing and public relations for MUST.
Hasty Elementary School counselor Mable Ferry said, “We serve at least 10 to 15 families per week and open the pantry one Saturday every month for parents who can’t get there during the week.”
“Our parents feel like our pantry is a safe place,” said Oak Grove Principal Penny Valle. “We are able to serve 24 families once a month and appreciate our committed volunteer shoppers. The Rotary Club of Woodstock has pledged to replenish our inventory for an entire year.”
Cherokee High School recently welcomed community leaders to celebrate the opening of the 38th neighborhood pantry in the Cobb/Cherokee counties. Ike Reighard, president and CEO of MUST, cut the ribbon with Cherokee’s principal, Todd Miller. They were surrounded by students who participate in the school’s Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy Program. The students worked hard to get the pantry set up with help from Cherokee administration assistant, Diana Dale.
“We hear stories about children skipping meals or going without a coat on a cold wintry day and it just breaks my heart,” Dale said “When I heard about the pantry, I immediately offered to help organize and serve in the pantry. I will never forget the looks of disbelief on the parents’ faces when they were allowed to take food to feed their babies. One father thanked us about 20 times. Another student, whose smile was so big his eyes disappeared, told me how he loved the fresh produce, as he was really getting into cooking lately and how the food he made was delicious. His younger siblings raved about the flavored oatmeal. Those moments make all of the hard work worth it.”
MUST brings people together to minister to others with compassion and love. Since its inception, the staff and volunteers have fulfilled the vision of the founder, Rev. Wayne Williams: connecting people who have a desire to help with those who need help the most.
There are three ways to get involved with a neighborhood pantry.
- Volunteer to sort food donations, stock shelves and serve families.
- Become a volunteer shopper.
- Donate to MUST Ministries – $25 provides one month of food and toiletries for a needy family. To donate, click on the Donate tab at www.mustministries.org.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 770-427-9862. Food donations can be dropped off at the MUST Donation Center at 1280 Field Parkway, Marietta. For more information about volunteering, email email@example.com.
– Susan Schulz, a wife, mom, writer and mentor who lives and plays along the Etowah River in Canton.