For hungry families, the Mason Food Pantry meets many needs (pride included)
Seven years ago, Janet Dale of Mason was living the good life.
Her husband, Roger, owned his own successful restoration business. The couple drove new cars and lived on the golf course. In her spare time, Janet volunteered with the Mason Food Pantry and other organizations.
That all changed one fateful night in 2005 when the houseboat her husband was a guest on lost power and was struck by a string of coal barges heading up the Ohio River. Roger Dale and three others were killed.
Suddenly Dale, a disabled grandmother who had custody of her two special-needs grandchildren, found herself seeking assistance from the same food pantry where she once volunteered.
“It was embarrassing,” said Dale of that first visit for assistance. “I had no insurance and no food. Without the support and help of the pantry, I don’t know what I’d do. It’s one less worry.”
Today, more than ever, middle-class families are looking to the Mason Food Pantry for assistance, said director Gina Brown.
The nonprofit agency assists more than 500 people a month. Pantry operators used to see mostly unemployed poor people, but that is changing to people who have been laid off or elderly people who struggle to pay rent and buy medicine, she said.
“We always have our generational poor and minimum-wage families, but what we’ve had a tremendous increase of is the middle class,” Brown said. “These are people who thought they had made all the right choices, but a lot of them have not had jobs since 2008 or 2009. It doesn’t matter how financially responsible you are. If you have not had a job in three to four years, you’re hurting.”
“Our goal is to get them sustainable,” she added. “We’re set up to be temporary help, but some people need more help than that. We’ve gone from short-term immediate help to long-term assistance.”
PEANUT BUTTER, SOUP, CEREAL AND PET FOOD
It’s a sunny Wednesday morning at the Mason Food Pantry. The last remaining shoppers fill grocery carts donated by Kroger. Several volunteers take advantage of the lull to restock the refrigerator and shelves.
Wednesday mornings – one of three days each week clients can shop at the pantry – can be hectic here as people wait their turn to be escorted through a neat, but compact grocery area consisting of a variety of canned and boxed nutritional items, from peanut butter to soups to cereals – even pet food.
Volunteers work to make the 600-square-foot space appealing and inviting. A basket of faux ivy and jars of dried pasta adorn shelves. Art prints and a wooden plaque that reads “Family Matters” line the walls.
Clients are able to shop for the items they want, unlike traditional pantries, where they are handed a pre-packed box of items which they may or may not use.
“You don’t just get a box of standard items,” Dale said. “You could get home and there could be nothing you could eat or things your doctor says not to eat. Here you can shop for something to go with something you have. It feels more like a grocery store.”
Clients, who are eligible for up to $300 a month in assistance, shop on a point system based on household size, with each item’s point value relative to its retail cost.
CLIENT-CHOICE SYSTEM HELPS RESTORE DIGNITY
The client-choice system returns dignity to people who are struggling and makes clients more likely to take advantage of the service, Brown said. There are no income or eligibility requirements, although clients must show proof of residency within the Mason School district.
“They’ve been kicked by everybody. I go out of my way to find connections,” Browns said.
The chance to develop a relationship – learn about family troubles, job searches, personal accomplishments or setbacks – is at the heart of the pantry, said Tammy Harvey, one of about 50 volunteers who staff and stock the pantry each week.
Pantry volunteers help clients navigate an often-times confusing maze of social services agencies. They give recipe tips and cooking lessons. Birthday bags containing boxed cake mixes, frosting and candy are distributed to families celebrating birthdays. The pantry also assists with school clothes and supplies.
“The people here are so kind and caring,” said Dale, wiping a tear.
“It’s more than just coming through and getting food. Everyone cares. You leave and you feel good.”
The Mason Food Pantry accepts donations 6:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays and 9:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 406 Fourth Ave., Mason. Personal-care products, such as over-the-counter medications, hygiene products, laundry detergent and dish soap, are especially needed.
While food products are welcomed, monetary donations allow the pantry to stretch its capacity further through special programs that allow director Gina Brown to purchase items in bulk at discounted prices. Donations are accepted on the organization’s website.
Purchase a completed Thanksgiving Holiday Basket for $45 (or $25 for the turkey). Each basket contains items to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal for a family of four, eight or 12 with all the necessary canned and packaged food, trimmings, turkey and roasting pan.
Information: 513-754-0333; www.masonfoodpantry.org.