Helping more than ever: Community Food Pantry turns 20

Food is something people can’t live without, so Selbyville’s Community Food Pantry is making sure they don’t have to. Each month for 20 years, Community Food Pantry volunteers have served an increasing number of families.

Coastal Point • Laura Walter : Community Food Pantry celebrates 20 years of community service this month. Longtime volunteers Mary Louise Warrington, left, and Jean Lynch, right, are part of the ‘organized chaos’ that served more than 120 people in November.Coastal Point • Laura Walter
Community Food Pantry celebrates 20 years of community service this month. Longtime volunteers Mary Louise Warrington, left, and Jean Lynch, right, are part of the ‘organized chaos’ that served more than 120 people in November.

“We’re very fortunate to get the donations we do. We receive a lot of food drives,” said coordinator Dottie Campbell. “Years ago, we couldn’t give meat because we couldn’t afford it. Now it’s donated every month, and it’s such a big help.”

Campbell estimated that they give groceries to an average of 70 families monthly, but Thanksgiving and December distributions can easily double that number. Community Food Pantry was equipped to serve 150 people on Nov. 17 at their Salem United Methodist Church headquarters.

The pantry operates one Saturday each month, from September to May, but can provide emergency groceries in summer. Senior citizens, the disabled, homebound folks and anyone else needing some extra support have used the food pantry.

“I’m getting phone calls from people who never had to do this. I can hear their embarrassment over the phone,” said Campbell. “It’s just been the economy has done a number on us. There’s a definite need in Sussex County.”

Whether a household is large or small, Community Food Pantry works to feed everyone. The program began when Sussex County churches partnered together to address hunger in the community. Originally based at the Assembly of God Church, the pantry originally had people wait in line outside to receive food. Today, they can enjoy coffee and a snack while waiting indoors.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said volunteer Christa Brack of Bethany Beach. “We do it no matter what, unless we can’t pass the roads.”

“It’s amazing to me how many folks come every week,” said volunteer Jean Neal of Selbyville. “One volunteer said it looks like organized chaos. Everyone knows what to do.”

Each family receives two full bags containing the same 25 essentials: bread, spaghetti noodles, sauce, canned tuna, canned fruit and vegetables, dry beans, cereal, peanut butter, jelly and more. Everyone also gets one grab-bag of “extras,” containing other random foods people donate that don’t fit specific guidelines.

Through the state’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, hunters send excess deer meat to state food pantries, so each family also gets ground venison this time of year. Mountaire also donated enough grocery gift cards for people to purchase a holiday bird for Thanksgiving. Cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes also rounded out November’s holiday donations.

Many local private donations and food drives support the Community Food Pantry, and volunteers shop Friday nights for anything they’re missing. They fill paper grocery bags, assembly-line style, with all the necessities.

Early Saturday morning, people begin filling the church hall to await distribution. Returning clients are served at 9 a.m., followed by newcomers. If able, they make a $3 donation, a small contribution toward the $30 value of groceries per person. Volunteers carry the bags out to clients’ cars, and everyone is usually done by 10:30 a.m.

Now nearly 13 years old, Jenna Hudson learned early that a lot of people need help. She has volunteered at the pantry for several years, to fulfill the community service requirement at Sussex Academy of the Arts & Sciences.

“It’s fun,” said Hudson, packing bags. “These people I work with have become like my friends.”

Many students, scouts and service groups donate a few hours to the pantry each month. Some volunteers arrive early to start work, such as John Hicks of Selbyville, who started unloaded the freezers at 7:15 a.m.

“A lot of people need food. I like to help out,” said Hicks, who has also worked for the pantry for several years, often doing heavy lifting.

The Community Food Pantry distributes food on the third Saturday of each month at Salem United Methodist Church on Church Street in Selbyville. To receive food, first-timers must bring a picture ID and arrive by 8:30 a.m. to fill out an application. They must live within the area from Selbyville to Dagsboro and eastward from Bethany Beach to Fenwick Island. Adult volunteers should arrive at 8 a.m. to sort food, and youth can come at 8:45 a.m. to carry bags.

For more information or emergency food needs during the month, contact Dottie Campbell at (302) 436-4118.