Vetta Watson (left) and Christine Holmes welcome everyone with a smile at New Cornerstone Food Pantry / Photo by Bethany Prange
Today I visited New Cornerstone Food Pantry to see firsthand the great work the volunteers are doing there to serve the community. I met an enthusiastic and committed group of individuals who take their role at the pantry seriously.
Pantry administrator Florence Wrenthrope told me, “I have a dedicated team – it’s because of them that we do what we do. They’re committed and loyal to this program.”
In fact, just this week, one of Wrenthrope’s volunteers called to ask what day the St. Louis Area Foodbank food delivery would arrive. The volunteer, Christine Holmes, wanted to be sure to schedule her Mother’s Day dinner with her family around her volunteer work so she wouldn’t let down the pantry!
“Well,” Holmes says with a shrug. “The people we serve have to have a nice Mother’s Day too!”
All the volunteers at New Cornerstone have a genuinely positive attitude toward their work at the pantry.
“We have a saying on how to treat people,” Wrenthrope says. “You never know what they’re going through, so we try hard to give them a smile.”
Recently, New Cornerstone began providing a monthly hot meal to their clients, offering a simple meal like cornbread and beans, chili or hot dogs. Wrenthrope says this is their way of ensuring that the people are getting at least one hot meal.
“A lot of them may not even have utilities on,” Wrenthrope says.
During one of their hot meals, a woman and a young girl came in.
“The little girl said, ‘grandma, do I get some food?'” Wrenthrope recalls. “The grandmother told her she could share hers. The little girl said, ‘I’m so hungry, I don’t want to share with you.'”
The volunteers saw this encounter and made sure to send the pair home with extra food. Moments like this are what make all the hard work worthwhile, Holmes says.
Another volunteer at the pantry agreed to do a quick Q & A with the St. Louis Area Foodbank. We’re thinking we might make these volunteer Q & A’s a regular blog feature!
1. Please give me your name and the name of the food pantry where you volunteer.
Vetta Watson. New Cornerstone Food Pantry of Union Memorial Outreach Center in St. Louis.
2. When did you first become involved with the food pantry?
I’ve been volunteering about 10 years.
3. What prompted you to begin working or volunteering with the food pantry?
It was one of my passions I’ve always wanted to do to reach out and help others. I assumed feeding people would be a priority so that’s why I came to the food pantry when I retired.
4. How many people does your pantry serve on an average month?
We feed 150 to 200 people a month.
5. How do you feel the St. Louis Area Foodbank affects the services you are able to provide your clients at the pantry?
I think it definitely helps support a lot of the people. For us, it makes it affordable where we can afford the food to provide our clients.
6. Do you feel the work you do is really making a difference in the lives of the people you serve? Can you tell me about an experience that made you feel you were making an impact?
Yes. A lady came in who had children. She had lost her job and her husband had left. They were very hungry and she was crying. She asked if we had anything we could give her. Our administrator, Florence Wrenthrope, had us give her food and she was so appreciative. That is just one time – there have been many. We really help people – I feel rewarded from that. We don’t know until we deal with people how desperate they are.
7. In your time as a volunteer/staff member, what are the most significant changes have you seen? I.e., more clients, less clients, less food coming in, more food, different types of food?
The count of people has increased. I think it fluctuates because of people losing their jobs. We’ve been told they wouldn’t have any food to eat if it wasn’t for our pantry.
8. What advice do you have for people who might need food assistance, but are too afraid or embarrassed to ask for it?
Reach out, set their pride aside and just come in. Nobody looks down on anybody. That’s what its here for. Periodically, everybody needs help.
9. What one thing, other than food, do most clients say they struggle to afford?
Utilities and then medications. Many people will decide not to purchase their medicine because they can’t afford it.
10. From your vantage point, what one thing would you like to see happen to improve the economic situation in America?
Jobs. We need more jobs created.
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator for the St. Louis Area Foodbank