Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TOP STORY >> Pantry feeds hungry in Lonoke

Freddy Thomason helps run a pantry that opened in Lonoke in June. He says the recession is affecting more people.

A sample of what people at Lonoke's Family Resource Services Center on Thursday took home.

Leader senior staff writer

Just inside the front door of Lonoke’s Family Resource Services Center, seven senior citizens wait for food from the center’s food pantry.

None wanted their picture taken and none agreed to be identified by name, but all agreed they were grateful for the free food they receive every two weeks.

The pantry is in a converted auto-parts store on Center Street that Lonoke Methodist Church makes available to the organization.

“I never thought I’d see the day I had to come down to a place like this,” said one woman. “The first day, I cried.”

She said when her husband died and she got sick, all she had was one Social Security check and “nothing went down,” she said of her bills, including utilities.

Another woman said she would go hungry at times without the food she gets from the pantry.

The center, which opened in June, is run by Freddy Thomason, 53, a self-employed auctioneer who was born and raised in Lonoke.

“The so-called recession hit us later (than most), and people are in need—especially seniors on fixed income,” he said.

“We try to fill the gap. People on fixed incomes are living check to check and they can’t (always) buy all their food and then pay bills,” he said.

The pantry is a project of the Lonoke Ministerial Alliance and is run mostly with volunteers.

Many low-income children in the area depend on free or reduced breakfasts and lunches at school. The pantry tries to meet the extra burden of helping those families, Thomason said.

The pantry serves residents of the Lonoke School District.

“I’m on the board and the pantry director,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure we get the food in and out.”

Apparently he’s doing a good job, because the pantry has sent more than 300 families home with $1,600 worth of food in its first three months of operation.

Most of that food is either donated or sold at rock-bottom prices by the Arkansas Rice Depot and the Arkansas Food Network.

The pantry will soon be distributing commodities for the Department of Agriculture.

Knight’s Grocery store in Jacksonville orders food by the case for the pantry and sells it at cost, Thomason said.

Pat Dickinson is the volunteer director and volunteers Thursday included Emma McCrary, wife of the state representative; former county clerk Prudie Perceful; Thomason’s wife, Sheila; Charlotte Kinslow and several others.

A family of two recently would have received frozen chicken nuggets, frozen mixed vegetables, canned vegetables, bread, spaghetti, spaghetti sauces, rice, juice, canned fruit, potatoes, frozen cupcakes, other dessert-type snacks and other items worth probably $40 at the grocery store, Thomason said.

Budgeting and nutrition classes will be taught at the center this fall.

The pantry is open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Thursdays from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. Call 501-676-6321.

The Family Service Center/Lonoke Pantry is applying for tax exempt status, Thomason said. In the meanwhile, they operate under the nonprofit umbrella of the Central Arkansas Develop Council, and donations are tax-deductible.

The pantry is open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The phone number is 676-6321