North Bryan County’s Food Bank is currently dated to close on Jan. 1, ultimately leaving 400 local residents with nowhere to turn to for food assistance in Pembroke.
The Food Bank has been located in the First Baptist Church parking lot for a long time, according to Pastor Brad Butler. Earlier this year, it was found to be infested with termites to a point beyond repair.
"With the termites, it’s just not a safe a situation anymore," Butler explained. "We need something either donated or loaned to us at a reduced rent. And we need people in the community who might be willing to make donations to help pay for the rent of the building, if that becomes the new situation. For a new site, we will need parking for anywhere from 20 to 30 vehicles during the pick up times."
Butler said two community families, the Lantzs and the Bechtels, are the primary volunteers dedicating to overseeing the bank. The families go to the Second Harvest of Savannah every other week, and every other Wednesday morning the bank helps approximately 180 families. The Bechtels took stats on the residents the bank provides to, including 24 single parents, 186 children and 149 seniors.
"I fear that if it is simply shut down all together it is going to make a significantly damaging impact on our North end of the community. This ministry does not belong to First Baptist alone; we house it simply because the building is here. We receive donations from other churches, but these families drive their own vehicles down to Second Harvest to pick up groceries. They are the ones who work so very hard. We have some freezers and some canned goods but everything fresh gets picked up by them," he said, noting that the bank is a ‘product-in, product-out’ situation that doesn’t actually store a lot of food.
Butler said that the holidays always bring out the good heartedness of the community, especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives.
"But the problem with that is, people don’t just need to eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said. "We provide an ongoing, twice a month service so people can eat on a regular basis."
Jim Lantz and Bruce Bechtel are currently on a mission trip in Mississippi, but Carol Bechtel talked about the Food Bank’s importance for North Bryan County. The whole Bechtel family has been involved from the get-go; she said her granddaughter started helping out when she was just four years old.
"We need a place. It’s going to be a basic two-car-garage sized area," Bechtel said. "The people who come to the Food Bank are people who are in a terrible crisis."
"I don’t know where to turn. We’ve been trying for eight months. No one wants to seem to help us. I don’t understand – they can write the space off as a tax write off. We’ve been praying and praying on it. All my children and grandchildren have been raised to help with this. I just don’t understand why we can’t get anyone in this town to donate a building, it's heartbreaking," Bechtel said.
Without the Food Bank, Bechtel knows the families who depend on it will have nowhere else to go.
"Food stamps don’t carry them through. They get a bag from us every two weeks. It’s not a huge amount, but it helps get them through. If we close the food bank – how are these people going to make it? How are we going to feed 400 people – including children – every two weeks? We can go up to 600 people during the holiday season months. What are these people going to do? They’re going to starve. They’ve got no other options. My granddaughter’s so worried they’ll have to start digging through garbage cans," she said.
Bechtel said, despite this situation, her family continues working hard and trying to do all they can to help the community. This holiday season, she hopes someone in the community "might have a big enough heart to come forward and help," she said.
"There are a lot of people counting on us. We have some good hearted people in the church that would help everything get set up if we just had a place to go. It’s breaking my heart – we’ve put our whole heart into this food bank. I can’t see it close and leave those people without any food and no where to go. A lot of these families, we’ve been dealing with for five years or longer. We can’t turn them away – what are we going to do?" she wondered.
According to statistics provided by Karen Franklin, an agency field representative for Second Harvest, there are 3,222 people (or, almost 12 percent of the local population) living in poverty. Out of that, 1,061 are children and 206 are elderly. The 2007 Poverty Guidelines said income for one person is $10,210 or less.
"These families are important partners to us; they’re the hands and feet for us," Franklin said. "We did a Mobile Pantry earlier this year – which is a direct service of emergency relief, provided through a grant. We loaded up 15,000 pounds of food and brought it out to the rural areas, worked with the local communities, and in about four hours, served 500 families in a day, including those in Pembroke. We’ve got a request in now to do another one. They’ve been very receptive to everything we’ve had to offer."
Franklin also said North Bryan officials have been very proactive in trying to help as well.
"We are working with Mayor Cook for some new feeding programs and the possibility of doing a Kids Café and starting a brown bag program for seniors. But regardless of these additional programs, we certainly do need the Food Bank to be the vehicle for achieving our mission," she said.
To help keep the Food Bank up and running in North Bryan County, or to find out more information, call Butler at the First Baptist Church office at 653-4952.