The closure of a local food pantry due to a reduction in use and a decline in volunteers is an unusual announcement in this time of growing needs, due to so many individuals and families in need of assistance due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week’s announced closure of the Down East food pantry, Active Christians Together Serving Food Pantry, was a surprise to many of the residents of the community and a bittersweet announcement for its organizers.
The bitter aspect of the announcement was aptly expressed by Hazel Arthur, founder and long-time volunteer. Explaining her feelings, the 84-year-old executive director noted that the pantry was forced to close due to a lack of patrons and volunteers. “I feel like I’ve done all that the Lord would have me do, and it’s time for someone else to take over,” Ms. Arthur told News-Times reporter Cheryl Burke. “But I can’t stop thinking that there may be someone who needs food and I won’t be there to help them.”
As the newspaper story noted, Ms. Arthur and a group of women from the church ladies’ auxiliary opened the pantry in order to bring aid to Down East families struggling from the impacts of Isabel which had hit the county in September 2003. “It became quickly apparent that the biggest need was to provide food for Down East families,” she noted. They opened their doors in the old Woodville Baptist Church sanctuary in early 2004. The church had, earlier in the year, moved to its current location on Highway 70 in Bettie.
While the announced closure of the pantry is sad, it is also a reminder that other organizations can and have stepped in to provide assistance to those in need. The decline in patrons or families in need is an indication that other community services are being used, thereby reducing the stress on the pantry’s three volunteers who are in their 70’s and 80’s.
Ms. Arthur is justified in wondering if usage of the pantry has declined due to fears associated with the pandemic but that is a small factor. When individuals and families need food, they will seek aid.
The impressive part of this story is not that the pantry is closing. The real story is that individuals in a community saw a need and stepped in to fulfill that need. And those individuals, in this case Ms. Arthur and her volunteer staff, have worked diligently for 16 years with the aid and generous donations of businesses and individuals to make the pantry a success.
Ms. Arthur said she’s grateful for the years she has been able to serve her community and the many donors and volunteers who have assisted. “They (the clients) got the food but I got the blessing,” she said.
All of this is a testament to what makes a community unique- particularly the Down East communities where residents willingly rely on one another rather than look to government for solutions. The blessings that Ms. Arthur acknowledges flowed not only to her but to the thousands of families who benefited from the effort of volunteers and generous donors.