Food Pantry Gets Help Amid Dwindling Supplies

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
COVID-19 caused the Benton County Food Pantry to close its doors on March 16 and other organizations stepped in to take some of the slack. A skeleton staff of volunteers kept the WARM House open for emergency food handouts and Pastor Tom Renfro and wife Cindy at First Baptist Church of Warsaw collected food donations and assisted many local families. Pastor Larry Johnston kept the Blessing Box open in front of his home at 18708 Braden Road in Warsaw where people could take food that they needed or leave donations.
As has been happening throughout this pandemic, things change daily. The Benton County Food Pantry once again opened its doors on March 30, with reduced hours of Monday and Wednesday, 9 AM to 3 PM, with 12 to 1 PM closed for lunch. It had usually been opened four days a week, Monday through Thursday during the same scheduled hours.
“People were in need,” said pantry manager Jeannie Arnold. “And, we had to figure out the number of volunteers who would be willing to come in to work. Most of our volunteers are in the 60 to 80 age range, and are especially vulnerable when exposed to a virus such as COVID-19.”
Instead of admitting clients into the pantry building, they are asked to go to the drive-through window, show their driver’s license, tell how many people are in their family, then drive to the back of the building to be handed their food. Volunteers say it is running pretty smoothly, but because of the reduced hours, they are not seeing quite as many people.
“There are still very needy people out there, but some are afraid of being exposed to the virus if they go out,” said Arnold.
Arnold said that monetary donations are very welcome and can be dropped off at the drive-through window, or mailed to the Benton County Food Pantry at P.O. Box 1758, Warsaw, MO, 65355. Arnold said that the community has been great at giving its support to the Pantry. She said that a great boost to the Pantry is coming from the Warsaw Elks who donated 440 pounds of chicken last week. She said it a great thing and the Pantry began distributing the meat on Monday, April 20.
Barry White, Grant Coordinator for the Elks, said that Elks International offers Community Investment Gratitude Grants, so he and members of the local lodge went to the community to see how they could use one of these grants to get the “most bang for our bucks.” The Food Pantry seemed to be the place that was in greatest need and could make the most of donations of meat-based proteins.
“We made our first donation of boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the Pantry last week, and will provide 600 pounds of the same thing on April 23,” said White. “We will make four more deliveries every other week taking them through June. We didn’t want to just give them bulk chicken that they would have to break down and re-package, so we began breaking down the chicken into two-pound packages and repackaging in accordance with all food handling codes. We did this in our commercial kitchen at the lodge.  We have a grocery supplier in Springfield who gave us a great price for the chicken, and our total amount purchased will end up being a ton and a half.”
“I also want to thank Subway and Sonic for supplying our volunteers with lunch, one day a week each, during the past two weeks,” said Arnold.
In light of the reopening of the pantry, Pastor Renfro said that his church is now only offering small emergency food boxes.
The WARM House closed shortly after the pantry opened, due to the stay-at-home order for Missouri. Sue Stevens, Warm House Board member said that it was a very hard decision, but the Board is evaluating the situation week to week to determine when it should open again.
The Blessing Box has been offering food on a “come-and-go” basis since November 22, 2018. 
“It is heart inspiring to see some people show up and take a few items, then leave some coins to help buy more food for someone else even though they may be in great need themselves,” said Pastor Johnston. “Fortunately, there have only been a few times when someone hoarded the food spoiling it for others who came after them. I have a basket in the Blessing Box where I sometimes put candy or children’s books for kids, and once a company selling meat came by the Box and took a lot of food and the children’s treats too.”
Pastor Johnston said that it is so important that those who pick up food at the Blessing Box, or at the Pantry or grocery stores, wipe down the containers the foods come in to prevent exposure to germs left by other people who touch the boxes or cans. He said that there are gloves located in the Blessing Box for people’s use when handling the food containers.
Pastor Johnston has had a ministry at Warsaw Health and Rehabilitation, providing regular Sunday church services to the residents and staff. He is presently making CDs of his sermons (including one for Easter) so they can be played at Warsaw Health and Rehabilitation when he can’t be there in person.
“I want people to know that if anyone needs something that they cannot get from the Blessing Box, they can call me at 207-266-2933, and I will try to help them.”