|Posted by Anne Siren on March 29, 2013 at 3:15 PM|
By Phyllis J. Neuberger
The Pelican sat down with Yvonne Womack, a dedicated volunteer and team leader of the Blessings Food Pantry, located on the Christ Church campus at 210 NE 3 St. in Pompano Beach. Cynthia Metzger Phipps, church communications director, sat in on this interview.
“I responded to an ad for volunteers in this pantry for three-hours a week,” says Yvonne who now volunteers at the pantry the equal of a regular work week. “This place is a passion for me and it’s a wonderful, gratifying way to spend my week. I’m also a mentor at Bennett Elementary School which is a two-hour weekly commitment for me. I’m from Michigan where I worked for an architectural firm as office manager. Although we came to Florida to retire, my husband works and I volunteer full time.”
She offers a brief tour of the space provided by the church which shows well organized boxes of clothing and shoes in one area, hygiene items in another. A room with refrigerated produce is filled with box after box of bagged groceries ready to go.
“We treat our clients with dignity and respect,” Yvonne says referring to the homeless and hungry families in Broward County. We understand and we tell them that we are just like them—a pay check away from needing the same kind of help. We started this pantry in the church kitchen in 2007, feeding 10 people on a busy day. This space feels like a mansion by comparison, and we need it because we feed well over 200 people each week.”
Cynthia chimes in with a few statistics. “This food pantry served 10,500 people in 2012. That’s an increase of 7.5 percent over 2011. We have over 40 volunteers who keep the pantry operating by conducting food drives, transporting and distributing food, meeting with clients, creating and maintaining client records. At the end of last year, we became part of the United Way of Broward’s Project Lifeline so we now receive fresh fruits and vegetables twice a month to give to the county’s hungry.”
The homeless are welcomed twice a month to pick up packed non-perishable foods with pop top tabs and clean clothing. Hungry families send a family representative once a month to receive their food. The size of the family determines the number of bags handed to them.
Asked how these clients hear about Blessings Pantry, Yvonne says, “They hear about us from one another. Some are referred by case workers, hospitals and other pantries and then there is the Broward Hot Line, 211. Those who no longer need us, thrill us when they stop by to say, “I’ve got a job and will now provide for my own family.” Sometimes we get a postcard from families who have moved away. We’re always happy to hear good news.”
Cynthia adds, “No one in America should go hungry. We want the children who come with a parent to remember this as a happy time so we always have juice, cookies and a toy on hand for all who visit.”
Yvonne explains that a system has been devised in order to provide properly. “We have a greeting room so when clients comes in, volunteers pull their files. We visit with them, trying to make it a personal experience. The vast majority would prefer to be shopping at Publix like we do and they are usually embarrassed and grateful. We try to treat them with the same courtesy we would want and respond in kind. Next, we hand them their food and all of the information we have on other pantries and agencies which may be of help. We wish we could give them enough food for the month but we just don’t have it.”
A number of generous businesses and local groups keep the pantry stocked. Cynthia ticks off a list of major supporters including Winn Dixie Foundation, Whole Foods, Gordon Food Service, Farm Share, a USDA distributor, Oakland Park Kiwanis, Christ Church School PTO, Christ Church, The Spice Quarter, Templeton Funds Fort Lauderdale, Bishop Gallagher High School, Zion Lutheran Christian School, Curves of Lighthouse Point, Upward Soccer and Upward Basketball.
In addition to Project Lifeline, two community gardens, The Need to Feed on Christ Church campus and The Fruitful Field in Pompano Beach, donate fresh produce. When it arrives, the fresh produce is spread out attractively on tables and clients pick and choose just like they would do at Whole Foods.
Blessings Pantry is totally volunteer driven. No one is paid. The 40 volunteers work in shifts. Team meetings keep the pantry functioning smoothly. Volunteer Cynthia Buehl says, “It’s a delight to work here because everyone is grateful to be helping others. I work in the storage area where we pack the food in bags and receive donations for our clients. It’s heartwarming to know how many people care and donate.
Another volunteer, Christina Abrams, is a retired executive who finds this volunteer job a “wonderful way to give back to the community”.
The pantry is open 52 weeks a year from 9 a.m. to 12 noon Mon. through Fri. Pastor Fawn Mikel is available once a week to provide spiritual help, and occasional financial assistance.
Yvonne wraps up the interview saying, “We have clients who have lost their homes and live in their cars if they are lucky enough to still have a car. The work we do may sound depressing but it is also gratifying because we are helping. We have to accept the idea that we are doing the best we can. The need seems to grow and we all wish there were more resources for them and ways to help them to get jobs and regain their self respect.”
Thank you Yvonne Womack and your team of 40 volunteers for your generous hearts and hands that keep Blessings Pantry open for those in need.
To donate, bring nonperishable foods that have not expired with pull tab tops if possible. Hygiene items are also welcome.
To volunteer or donate, call 954-943-0404, ext. 207