Starting Thursday, May 11, the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry will have a new physical home — but according to those who work to keep it open twice a month, every month, that’s the only thing that will change at the pantry.
“We really hope that people will continue to come,” pantry director Paula Hurwitz said this week.
The pantry, which for nearly two decades was housed at the Jallow Springs United Methodist Church, will now be located at the AME Church’s Central Chapel, 411 S. High St. As before, the pantry will be open from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
Founded two decades ago by the late Villager Mary Ann Bebko in her garage, the Food Pantry moved to the Methodist Church in 2005, where it was then run by Villager Patty McAllister. In the summer of 2014, the News announced that McAllister would be stepping down the following winter and that the pantry needed a new coordinator. After reading the ad in the News, Hurwitz said she was intrigued.
“So one day I went to the pantry,” Hurwitz said. “I’d never met Patty before, but I introduced myself and said, ‘I think I can do this.’
After leading the Food Pantry for nearly a decade, Hurwitz just last week received the Association’s James A. McKee Founders Award for Community Service. Avoiding personal praise during this interview, she acknowledged the pantry’s volunteers — who help with everything from social media to sorting donations and greeting those who use the pantry — and local donors who help the pantry thrive.
“If you ask me why I [work for the pantry], probably because I can,” said Hurwitz. “And I have a lot of help—we have great volunteers and the people we serve are wonderful. And Yellow Springs is usually a very generous community.”
Searching for a new home
Hurwitz with YS United Methodist Church Pastor Latoya Warren; Pastor of Central Chapel, Rev. Deborah Duckett; and Central Chapel Trustee Kevin McGruder, showed the news the space in the Central Chapel that now houses the food pantry, a bright, airy room in the back of the church.
Ten years ago, they said, the room was used as a church choir. The room was later used for private consultations with health professionals during the weekly free clinics the church began holding in 2018; the clinic was closed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
Hurwitz said she had long envisioned the space in the Central Chapel as ideal for a pantry because of its accessibility; while the United Methodist Church required Food Pantry patrons to park along the street and walk down the steps to the church basement, or take a small elevator that Hurwitz described as “more like an officer,” the new pantry has parking behind the church and a nearby rear entrance off S. Stafford Street that leads directly to the pantry.
“Some people are coming in with walkers, wheelchairs or canes — so I think it’s going to be easier for some of our people who have been unable to get around,” Hurwitz said. “I think [the new space] will serve us well.”
The move to the Central Chapel, more than a year in the making, took a lot of time and hard work — a leak in the church’s roof that caused some damage to the former dispensary prolonged the process considerably. However, Hurwitz and Duckett credited the ultimately successful move to the persistence of McGruder, who, along with other members of the Central Chapel Board of Trustees, helped obtain an insurance claim to repair the roof and restore the facility to new condition.
“[McGruder] made it possible for us to be here — he played an important role,” Hurwitz said.
“Through the Board of Trustees!” McGruder clarified, hesitating.
“But he brought the idea to the board,” Rev. Duckett said. “And then they worked out all the details.”
McGruder went on to say that he thought it made sense that a space that was once used for free medical care should now be used to feed the community — especially since the pantry is still in the church.
“If you look at the life of Jesus, he heals people and feeds them,” McGruder said.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Duckett added. “Being a blessing to support and carry on the legacy is what God wants us to do.”
Pastor Warren went on to say that the Food Pantry’s exit from the United Methodist Church is bittersweet; while she said her church was happy to continue hosting the Food Pantry in perpetuity, she understands the need for greater accessibility for community members.
“I think everyone is in a cycle of change — COVID opened that door,” Warren said. “And that’s the direction that God has led this particular organization to provide better access to receive those blessings.”
She added on behalf of the YS United Methodist Church: “We are not excluding ourselves [from being involved with the pantry] “We just need to understand what it looks like now.”
Community feeding, twice a month
The shelves at the new Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry are overflowing with donated food, and each shelf is dedicated to a variety of goods: canned fish, canned chicken, beans, cereal, soup, peanut butter, jelly, pasta, the list goes on.
“We’re an unusual pantry because people come in and we let them have one item from each shelf,” Hurwitz said. “We don’t package for people, so they might have a choice — maybe they don’t like Raisins.” Maybe they only like Cheerios. Or they can say, ‘Oh, Paula, I’ve got a lot of cereal right now, I don’t need it’ – our customers are demanding.”
Food items are available to customers on both the second and fourth Thursday of each month. On the fourth Thursday of each month, customers can also select non-food items such as menstrual products, dish soap and laundry detergent, and bathroom products including shampoo and toothpaste.
Hurwitz said the Food Pantry serves 20 to 30 client families every two months. A customer’s family can consist of six people – or it can be one person. Many of the pantry’s customers are regulars, she added, but there is usually at least one new face every two weeks.
“We have people who come every time, and we have people who come once or twice just because it’s a little difficult for them,” Hurwitz said.
She added that if you need Food Pantry services but can’t make it in person during business hours, you can ask a friend or neighbor to come and shop for you; if you cannot find transportation, you can also request a ride to the pantry in advance through the Senior Center. And if none of these options are available to you, you can contact the Food Pantry at 937-510-6030 and arrange for delivery.
Hurwitz said the Food Pantry is still working out the process for accepting donations at the new location; in the past, people could leave donations outside the Methodist church, but for now, Hurwitz advises those who would like to donate to call the pantry to make arrangements.
Another donation option is through PORCH Yellow Springs, an offshoot of the national PORCH program, which hosts monthly food drives where participating villagers can leave donations on their front porches to be picked up by program volunteers. Donations raised through PORCH benefit the Food Pantry; monthly pantry needs and donation collection dates are posted regularly at facebook.com/PorchYellowSprings.
As for the items the pantry particularly needs right now, Hurwitz said it’s a “moving target,” though she mentioned that the shelves seem to be “a little short on pasta sauce.” But if you don’t know what to donate, monetary donations are always accepted by mail at PO Box 815, Yellow Springs, 45387.
Looking around at the stocked shelves of the new Food Pantry, Hurwitz acknowledged that even the many items don’t cover “everything you’ll need.”
“It’s all an add-on, just to make life a little easier,” she said. “But we hope people will come to visit us in this new place – we’re all friendly here!”
The Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry is open from 2 to 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month — except Thanksgiving week, when it will be open on Tuesday. Remaining open dates in 2023: May 11 & 25, June 8 & 22, July 13 & 27, August 10 & 24, September 14 & 28, October 12 & 26, November 9 & 21, and December 14 & 28.
The pantry serves residents of Yellow Springs, Miami and Clifton, as well as people who work in Yellow Springs or have children in Yellow Springs schools. No proof of income is required, but pantry volunteers ask customers to provide their name and address. For more information about the pantry, call 937-510-6030.