Asbury UMC Food Pantry gives a ‘hand-up’

Published 11:47 am Friday, September 11, 2015

Volunteers stand in the Asbury United Methodist Church Food Pantry after a day of distributing goods to those in need. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

Volunteers stand in the Asbury United Methodist Church Food Pantry after a day of distributing goods to those in need. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

NORTH SHELBY—Tucked away at Asbury United Methodist Church—past the main entryway, the worship hall and the classrooms—sits the Asbury UMC Food Pantry. Although housed in a small, unassuming room, the pantry’s impact stretches far beyond the walls of the church.

Every Wednesday the pantry provides food to as many as 40 families in need, distributing nearly 800 free food items.

“They’re our customers,” pantry volunteer Janet Youngblood said of those she serves each week. “They come shopping in our orchard and our vegetable garden.”

The pantry is stocked with a variety of food items, from staples such as bread, peanut butter and jelly, to vegetables and fruit. Families may stop by the pantry every other Wednesday and pick up necessities.

“(We try to) have as many food groups as we can,” pantry director Irene O’Neill said.

Food items are all purchased and collected through donations, and the pantry is run by a dedicated group of volunteers.

“I don’t even worry about it,” O’Neill said when asked about finding volunteers to staff the pantry on Wednesdays. “They love to come and do this.”

The Asbury UMC Food Pantry was founded four years ago, and in the beginning served less than 10 people each week. Even through substantial growth, the pantry has stayed true to its founding commitment of non-judgment.

“There’s just no reason in the world people in this country should go hungry,” O’Neill said. “We’re not put here to judge other people, and we’re certainly not trying to do that.”

Customers come from across Shelby County and from all walks of life and situations, O’Neill said.

“I’ve been amazed by the number of people in need,” O’Neill said.

“What amazes me also is they come from Columbiana, Montevallo, Alabaster,” pantry volunteer Nancy Hurst added. “They come from everywhere.”

The Asbury UMC Food Pantry does more than just fill a need for food, it makes a tangible difference, O’Neill said, explaining she has seen pantry customers move from receiving food to being in the position to give food back.

“It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up,” O’Neill said. “We have people who use the pantry, have needed it, no longer need it and want to give back. That’s really special.”

Although the pantry and its volunteers distributed hundreds of food items each week, volunteers are quick to say they get more from the mission than they give.

“To me, it’s just doing God’s work,” pantry volunteer Ginny Benintende said. “It’s just such a joy to come here and help other people. They’re just sweet, sweet people.”

“I look forward to it each week, and I miss it when I’m gone,” O’Neill added.