by Glenda Williams, BNc correspondent

ELBA, Ala (BNc) — For years, the church in Elba, Alabama had a small pantry housed in a closet, but they were never able to feed the hungry as they do now.

Recently the church built a family-life annex complete with a spacious kitchen and dining area, classrooms, restrooms, and a large pantry. Located right behind the church building, the annex is convenient to the offices of the church’s minister and secretary. Although the new construction allowed them to continue dispensing food from the pantry to the hungry who came seeking, it didn’t take long for the church members to see the need to step up their efforts in feeding the hungry.

The church decided to qualify as distributors of food from the Food Bank in Dothan, Alabama. The food bank receives near out-of-date food from different grocery chains. The stores donate, or sell, the food to the bank to be given to those in need. To qualify as distributors, certain members had to attend an all-day class to learn rules and regulations about dispensing the food. Following the class, they were allowed to begin buying food from the bank for as little as ten cents a pound.

Once the initial steps were taken, other members of the church began to get involved. Three freezers were donated to the pantry by individual members of the church. Others agreed to make the trip to purchase the food once or twice a month, and some volunteered to work in the pantry.

Today members meet regularly to fill boxes with canned vegetables, fruits, meats and other staple items. Three different size boxes are used for packaging. Large boxes are filled for a family with three children. Medium boxes are filled for a smaller family, and a small box is filled for a single person living alone. If a family has more than three children they are given a large and a small box of food.

The church never knows what items they will get when they make the trip to purchase food. In June they bought 781 pounds for $117.15. Sometimes they get roasts, hamburger meat, and bread, which they freeze and dispense when a person comes for food. Just as the church never knows what will be available to purchase, the person who is asking for food does not know what will be in their box. Some who have school children request peanut butter and jelly, or foods suitable for lunch boxes or snacks. The church works to supply families’ needs as best they can.

Pam Crittenden, church secretary, said church members donate items such as peanut butter, jelly, and spaghetti sauce, which they are unable to get from the food bank. She said they also try to keep some easy-t0-open food, such as canned meats and crackers, available for people who come by hungry. Money is donated to make purchases, as needed, to help the less fortunate.

The minister, Philip Box, enjoys taking time to talk to the people who come and reports finding them receptive. Some have subsequently attended worship as a result of the love and kindness of the church. When asked if the people seemed appreciative, the secretary, Pam Crittenden, agreed. “For the most part, most of the time, yes.”

According to Crittenden, the church has given away as many as seven boxes to seven different families in one day. She added that requests for food tends to peak during the latter half of the month. Summing up their efforts, Box commented, “The church has given out several thousand pounds of food this year. This effort has helped to build positive relationships with the community as well as reaching the lost and feeding the hungry.”