Practicing what it preaches, church opens food pantry Non-profit agency is partner in project

November 16, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

When the Rev. Clarence Newsome urged members of St. John Baptist Church to take their Christianity outside the walls of the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, they listened.

In September, the church opened a food pantry in Abbott House, a Columbia apartment complex for low- and moderate-income tenants.

The pantry will distribute food on the third Friday of every month and organizers expect to serve between 15 and 25 households in the 100-unit complex in the Village of Harper's Choice.

On Friday, County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Council members will attend a dedication ceremony at Abbott House celebrating the new pantry.

"I'm so pleased that this project is building momentum day in and day out," said Mr. Newsome, who has served as interim pastor at St. John for the past year.

"We have a congregation full of very talented people who wanted to give witness of their Christian faith by helping the community," said Mr. Newsome, dean of Howard University's School of Divinity.

The project is a partnership between St. John and Community Action Council, a non-profit agency providing a variety of human services in the county.

"I think it's an excellent gesture," said Rita Benton, Abbott House manager. "It's certainly going to offset some of the hard times that my tenants face."

Community Action Council's director, Dorothy Moore, said one of the best things about the food pantry is its Columbia location, the area where most of the agency's clients live.

Many of them have difficulty getting to Community Action's food pantry at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, which served 1,508 households from October 1991 through September 1992.

"They've created this food pantry at Abbott House to serve that local community," said Ray Gosselin, director of programs for Community Action Council.

The pantry project began to take shape after Mrs. Moore spoke (( to the St. John congregation last spring, at the church's request, about the needs of low-income Columbia residents.

"My invitation was to talk to them about the needs of poor people," Mrs. Moore said. "They felt they weren't doing enough in terms of outreach in the community."

The church formed a committee to organize the effort and during the summer church members worked with the Community Action Council to learn the nuts and bolts of running a food pantry, said church member Fran White, the project director.

When volunteers learned they couldn't run the pantry from the church's meeting place at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, Mrs. Moore suggested Abbott House.

Employees at the apartment complex made a space for the pantry by clearing out a storage room and giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Church member Jeanne Cooper was in charge of soliciting donations to the pantry from community groups and businesses.

"I was begging for lumber for 2 1/2 months," Mrs. Cooper said, referring to her search for wood for the pantry's shelves.

Last week, Columbia Builders came through with nearly $1,000 worth of lumber, Mrs. Cooper said.

Church members donated their construction skills to build the shelves.

Local groups have organized food drives and Hechinger's gave the pantry a $100 merchandise certificate. One volunteer, not a church member, donated a refrigerator and freezer.

"We're getting help from all communities," Mrs. White said. "So many people are willing to contribute."

Much of the pantry's food will come from Community Action Council, which is a distributor for the Maryland Food Bank. Community Action provides food for 12 other food banks throughout the county, mostly run by churches. The agency will also act as a consultant to the pantry.

Through food drives and money collected from weekly church offerings, St. John will contribute food and supplies to the pantry on a regular basis.

Once the food pantry is established, the church plans to give more than food to the Abbott House community.

Mrs. White said church members will start a mentor program for children in Abbott House.

"We're excited about how this is really a joint venture between Abbott House, Community Action Council and the church," Mrs. White said.

"I think it has a very promising future."

Anyone interested in volunteering at the food pantry or making a donation may call 992-6977.

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