St. Mary’s Food Pantry in Canton sees increased need in the summer months
CANTON — When he saw the package of dinner rolls on the table, the little boy asked volunteers at St. Mary’s Food Pantry if his family could have them. They said his response was heartbreaking when he found out he could.
“Dad, we get to keep this bread,” he cried.
“His eyes were this round with that package of bread,” one volunteer recalled. “This is why we’re here. No child should be that excited over a package of dinner rolls. . . . No one should be that excited about a package of dinner rolls.”
That is the case for many families during the summer months, however.
Volunteer Nancy Elson said the need increases when children are out of school and don’t have breakfast and lunch provided every day. In addition, churches in the Canton community put together “buddy bags” that teachers can slip into the backpacks of children who may not have dinner waiting for them at home.
“In the summer they are often with the grandparents, so we have a number of grandparents who come every week of the year who say, ‘I’ll have the grandkids this summer,’” Elson said.
Set up to flex with each family’s needs, the food pantry can offer more supplies in special circumstances. In the summer, for example, peanut butter is given to families with children on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.
In addition, each child receives a nutritious snack of applesauce, pudding, bananas, milk or fruit juice as they wait in line with their parents or grandparents.
St. Mary’s Food Pantry is open from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. every Friday and people may stop by each week. The only requirement is that they live in Fulton County, although Elson said they find ways to help everyone.
“Even if they come from outside Fulton County we would feed them the first time, but then we would tell them, ‘You have to find a food bank in your own county,’” she explained. “Nobody ever gets turned away.”
GETTING THROUGH THE WEEK
The food pantry has been a godsend for Jessica, a full-time student at Western Illinois University who has a 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. She is married, but even with her husband working 50 or more hours a week, their family struggles to pay the bills.
They receive assistance from the state and are grateful for the help, but it amounts to about $75 a month.
“My main goal in coming here is to get nutritious stuff and meat. That way I have things for meals,” she told The Catholic Post. “It’s not so much snacks, but to help provide for meals and make it a little bit easier. Nobody in college has money!”
At 34, Jessica returned to school after a decade and is studying speech pathology. That will require graduate school, too.
“I’m doing it to set an example for them,” she said, gazing at her children. “We really don’t have a whole lot of college background in our family.”
She added that she wants to get off “the system” and be self-sufficient.
“It takes a lot of hard work, but it’s doable,” she said.
Another mother with small children, Penni is on disability. She comes to St. Mary’s Food Pantry so they can make it through the week and said summer is particularly tough, as is Christmas break.
“You’ve got to keep food in the place,” she said. “They constantly want food and snacks.”
St. Mary parishioners make certain that food is available by donating to the food pantry each month through their tithing. That gives the pantry as much as $500 or $600, which goes a long way toward meeting their expenses of about $450 each week for food alone.
Parishioners also bring non-perishable items to church on Food Pantry Sunday.
In addition, they benefit from food drives in the Canton area and memorials left to them to continue their work.
For the last four years, the food pantry has also sponsored a themed fundraiser. There have been two Mardi Gras parties, a St. Patrick’s Day event and a St. Joseph’s Table for the Feast of St. Joseph.
Elson said the food pantry served 19,297 people in 2014 and 20,490 people in 2015. In the first six months of this year, they have assisted 10,615 people.
St. Mary’s Food Pantry of Canton was established by Father Robert Reynolds in the basement of the rectory on Aug. 12, 1985. It operated in the basement of another parish building for many years before moving to the current stand-alone structure near the church in 2012.
Among the improvements have been walk-in refrigeration units.
A Mary Garden greets everyone who comes for assistance.