Pottsville churches form first food pantry in town

By Tammy Keith Originally Published December 20, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 19, 2012 at 9:25 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Lisa Barber sorts food at the Pottsville Community Pantry. The pantry, which opened after another local pantry closed, is holding food distributions the third Friday of every month, rotating among three churches.

— When a nearby food pantry shut down, women from three different Pottsville churches stepped up to fill the gap.

“It’s believers working together to provide a need in the community,” said Lisa Barber of Pottsville, one of the board members.

The Pottsville Community Pantry, the first in the town, started in November and will have another food distribution from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church, 5390 West Ash St.

Barber, a member of the Baptist church, was volunteering at the Crow Mountain church that had an active pantry, serving about 90 families a month.

“That church decided they didn’t want to support that ministry, so they just shut it down,” Barber said.

“Specifically, the first thing that comes to your mind are the kids, because they’re just kind of victims of their parents’ choices or life circumstances that come along,” she said.

“In Scripture, we’re told to take care of the widows and orphans. We also want to show unity among believers,” Barber said.

The three churches that started the pantry are First Baptist, Pottsville United Methodist and Pottsville Assembly of God.

The parsonage of First Methodist Church, which was vacant, is the pantry headquarters. Distribution will be rotated among the three churches.

Dianna Qualls, a member of the Methodist church, said she and fellow church members started talking to the Baptist pastor about a food pantry.

“There had never been one in Pottsville,” Qualls said. “We were all kind of on the same page. To me, that’s been almost the miracle part of this — everyone was thinking the same thing, but how do we as a small church in a small community pull it off and meet the needs of our people in our community?”

By joining forces, “it has all come together,” she said.

Qualls said several businesses have made financial contributions.

“It has blown my mind ... I’ve always heard, ‘Be careful what you pray for.’ I think the good Lord has blessed us abundantly,” Qualls said.

Qualls is co-chairwoman of the five-member board, along with Glenda Jay.

“The blessings we have seen have been numerous. I mean numerous,” Qualls said. “The kids — we’ve got a couple of the Baptist youth group on Wednesday nights and then we’ve got a little kids' Bible study going on Wednesday night ... they will come over to the pantry and mark out UPC codes and box up stuff. They have been excited about this; unbelievably so.”

There are some issues with the parsonage, Qualls said. “We do not have heat or air. That’s not something the church can take care of.

“We’re unable to provide perishable food at the moment, but we’re pursuing some avenues that will allow us to do that,” Qualls said.

Barber said the pantry is intended for Pottsville residents, although they won’t turn anyone away.

“We are asking people to bring valid photo ID and proof of residency, like an electric bill,” Barber said.

“We really wanted to have something specifically for people living in the Pottsville community. It’s a very tight-knit community,” and the churches are active in all areas," she said.

The first distribution was in November. Barber said people were given food boxes that included turkeys, some of which were donated by the high school Beta Club.

For the Christmas distribution on Friday, she said there will likely be hams, also donated by the Beta Club, and turkeys, as well as “typical side dishes” that go with holiday meals.

Although the focus is on holiday meals now, the pantry also provides toiletry and household items such as shampoo, toothpaste and laundry detergent, Barber said.

A donation box has been placed at Liberty Bank in Pottsville for people to drop off donations.

People who need food boxes are asked to call ahead to help volunteers prepare.

To request a food box, or to volunteer, call Barber at (479) 264-6913.

“We are more than happy to have anyone join us,” Qualls said.

Barber said in November only about 23 families were served.

“We did not have nearly as many people come as we were expecting,” she said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of advertising.”

Qualls said that in January the board will begin the paperwork to become a nonprofit organization.

The two other board members are Dixie Thackston and Becky Manning.

“I do see, as we get more volunteers, we’ll have to have a volunteer coordinator,” Qualls said.

For now, though, she said they just want to feed their community.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.