NEW CASTLE —
Nothing much, director Freeda Grossman says, has changed in the five-year history of The Neighborhood Pantry.
Still, there is one big difference.
When the Church of Genesis-operated facility opened its doors in 2009, the folks coming through the doors were strangers.
“What’s interesting about it is that now, our clients have become family,” Grossman said. “We have 797 families and 1,934 individuals that have signed up in the last five years.”
And it’s not just the food that keeps them coming back.
The pantry — located in a former two-car garage across Madison Avenue from the rear of the Cedar Street church — continues to provide clients that chance to build a better life, as well as the makings of a meal.
Anyone can show up at the pantry door for food. All that’s required is a driver’s license; there are no income requirements. The individual is given a certain number of credits, based on the size of his or her family, and uses those to “purchase” items from shelves set up like a mini-mart inside the pantry.
“They can pick out what they want for their family, not just be handed a pre-packed bag,” Grossman said.
The credits are re-issued each month, but the total declines by 25 percent each time. When they are exhausted, clients may earn their points by attending pantry-sponsored self-improvement classes, by attending Bible study at Church of Genesis or by attending a church of their choice at least three times in a month.
A celebration this week marking the pantry’s fifth anniversary also offered a chance to earn credits.
“You look out here tonight, we have the clients working and they’re getting credit right now for working and doing different things around here,” Grossman said. “We (the pantry staff) are just kind of filling in wherever needed.”
The anniversary observation featured free hotdogs, popcorn and chips, sno-cones, cake and cold drinks, as well as a backhoe provided by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania. Those attending were encouraged to bring food items to fill the bucket of the machine.
Columbia Gas, which has been a regular supporter of the pantry, also made a $500 donation.
The Rev. Ron Eade, Church of Genesis pastor, emceed the evening’s program and noted that another change to the pantry was the creation a couple of years ago of an advisory panel made up of clients to provide feedback and suggestions.
“It added a whole new dimension to our program,” he said.
The newest addition was unveiled at the anniversary celebration: The Matthew R. Smith Memorial Award. The honor is named for a staff member who passed away, but who is remembered as having been a critical component of the pantry’s success.
Smith, Eade said, helped turn the old garage into a serviceable location for the pantry, installing the heating, donating air conditioning, putting up exterior lighting and serving as a bagger for clients’ groceries.
An award to honor a staff member each year was created and named for Smith, Eade said, “because of his passion for clients, his labor of love, and because he exhibited the character of Christ, who did not come to be served, but to serve.”
The inaugural recipient, announced at the celebration, was Grossman.
The director, though, deflected the praise.
“You gotta give God all the glory, first and foremost,” she said. “And what a team we have too; it’s an awesome team.”
•The Neighborhood Pantry is located at 220 McMillan Way in Mahoningtown, behind and across Madison Avenue from the Church of Genesis, 303 N. Cedar St. It is open from 5:30 to 7 p.m. each Tuesday.
•Only a driver’s license is needed to begin receiving food; no proof of income is required.
•For more information, call (724) 654-0889.
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