Almonesson UMC food pantry adapts to the times

Volunteers help those in need while depending on the pantry’s own support

Judy Nichols organizes items at the Almonesson United Methodist Church Food Pantry. Nichols has been volunteering at the pantry for five years. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

No one is shopping at the Almonesson United Methodist Church Food Pantry right now – but that isn’t stopping the house of worship from helping those in need.

While customers typically peruse the pantry’s offerings and choose their own groceries, COVID-19 has made changes to the format. It still serves   approximately 10 to 20 families and individuals a week who depend on the help, but instead of shopping, the bags are coming pre-filled then handed off in the church lobby.

“We try to give them what we think they can use: eggs, a loaf of bread. We would like to give more vegetables and things, but we have limited funds,” Judy Nichols explained.

Nichols joined Almonesson UMC about seven years ago, and she started helping with the food pantry two years later. Currently, Nichols, Bob Barnshaw and Pastor Gerri Ridings run the pantry.

“I just wanted to volunteer, and I wanted to do something,” Nichols recalled. “I enjoy working with the people. Before COVID, we got close with a lot of them. You get to be friends.

“It’s really fun,” she added.

The Almonesson United Methodist Church Food Pantry is dependent on donations from the community. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

Next week, pantry volunteers will give Thanksgiving baskets to those who sign up, providing turkeys and all the trimmings for a holiday meal. They  do so every year, and when possible, do the same for the Christmas holiday.

“We would like to do it for Christmas also, if we get the donations,” Nichols said. “The church family has been very generous with us. It keeps us going.”

The pantry depends on congregants – and the community at large – to stock its shelves. It accepts both food and monetary donations. Most needed pantry food items include: Progresso/Chunky soups, whole kernel corn, carrots, canned fruit, canned chicken breast, tuna, spaghetti and elbow macaroni (no other pasta shapes), spaghetti sauce (24-ounce. jars), puddings (Snack Pack type), pancake mix and pancake syrup.

Even when the church was completely closed at the start of the pandemic in the spring, Pastor Ridings kept the pantry going for those who needed it. While no one relies on it for their sole source of food, every little bit helps, Ridings explained.

Judy Nichols, left, Bob Barnshaw and Pastor Gerri Ridings take a break from food pantry work at Almonesson United Methodist Church last Thursday morning. (Kristen Dowd/The Sun)

“While some use our services each week, many come only occasionally when they are a little short on funds because of illness or extra bills coming in,” he added. “There are some people we might see for a month straight and then not again for a year. Our clientele are a mix of older folks and young families with children. Some are disabled and some have jobs, which don’t pay quite enough to make ends meet.”

Those in need can stop by the Almonesson UMC on Thursday mornings from 9 to 10 a.m. to receive pantry support. Those looking to make a donation to the pantry can mail checks to Almonesson UMC, 1680 Almonesson Road, Deptford, or leave bags of food at the front door, which is checked multiple times a day. Donations can also be made online by visiting www.gnjumc.org/onlinegiving/ and specifying Almonesson UMC’s food pantry for the donation. For questions or more information about the pantry and Christmas food baskets, visit the church online at almonessonumc.org, call (856) 227-0802 or email almonessonchurch@hotmail.com.