February 28, 2011 by wcobserver
By Susan McCarthy
Chance or perhaps fate brought Tina Holt to the Greenland First Baptist Church six months ago. Her business in Tulsa had just failed and she’d lost everything including her car. She landed on her mother’s doorstep on the south end of Fayetteville with her suitcases and pets to start her life all over again.
A friend had suggested Holt attend her church, but she was without a car, so she went to the church that offered a free bus ride and that’s what literally brought her to Greenland. Six months later she is juggling two jobs and the birth of a new food pantry that will serve Greenland, West Fork and Winslow.
Holt and her fellow members of the Women on Missions group from the Greenland First Baptist Church opened their “Our Mission Food Pantry” on Jan. 31. The pantry is open on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. and for a short time on Wednesday night following the church’s evening service, around 8 p.m.
“Everyone wanted it, but didn’t know how to get it,” said Holt who has put her 20 years of military logistics experience to work to figure out how a food pantry operates and to get one opened.
“Tina has really taken a lead in heading this up. She is a very great asset to our church and helped in a lot of ways,” said Pastor Eric Howerton of Greenland First Baptist Church.
“What God wanted me to do was start this pantry,” she said.
Holt says the food pantry is funded entirely from donations and it got its start with a private donation from someone who said, “I love this idea and I’ll donate $1,000.”
The food pantry has been erected in a screened area in the church’s gymnasium. Church members have helped build the screen and the pantry’s shelving which now hold everything from organic peas, beans, and pasta to pickles, cereal bars and tortillas. Holt has just unloaded racks of fresh bread, bagels, English muffins and buns that she’d picked up earlier that morning at the Northwest Arkansas Food Pantry. A side by side refrigerator and freezer is stocked with fish and chicken. The refrigerator side is empty, waiting to be filled the next day with milk, cheese, and eggs.
“Most [food pantries] don’t have bread, milk or cheese,” said Holt.
It becomes obvious quickly how much work is involved in rounding up the donations that fill the shelves and refrigerator. They don’t come from a single source, but from donors all over Northwest Arkansas. Holt said some donors like Ozark Natural Foods have donated food while others have donated money that in turn has been used to purchase food at the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, which charges its partner agencies 18 cents a pound for food.
Holt said their organization has been inspected and approved by the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and is waiting for the Rice Depot in Little Rock to visit in March to conduct their inspection. She said she hopes they will be able to partner with United Way at some point so the pantry can offer diapers, toilet paper and other paper goods, but the $180 membership fee and $15 per visit costs are needed to make that happen.
“That’s the fear. Where is the money coming from? Faith. Just start walking and things just start happening,” said Holt.
Holt said the snowy weather has prevented the pantry from helping as many people as they had anticipated in its first month. Holt said the pantry has been visited by 11 families so far this month and hopes more will come as the word gets out. She said that the pantry’s hours would be expanded as more people from the community use it.
Pastor Howerton says the area’s economy and job losses have created more need for a food pantry. Greenland Schools reports 64 percent of its students receive free and reduced lunches and 57 percent of West Fork’s student body receives free or reduced lunches.
“We’re seeing a lot of need right now. There are lots of folks not doing well financially,” he said.
“People are prideful; it’s a delicate balance,” said Holt who worries pride may keep some people from coming to the food pantry.
She said visitors do have to provide proof of address and provide the number of people living within a household, but that volunteers work hard to respect privacy and confidentiality. Visitors to the food pantry can only visit one time a month, but Holt said they receive a lot of food in a single visit.
“It’s not meant to feed a family. We’re a supplement.”
While Women on Mission is still getting their arms around operating a food bank, Holt said they hope to expand their offerings to include clothing, furniture, pet food, and emergency utilities help.
“People are hungry, they’ve got bills to pay and they need help,” she said. “How do we reach our community? How do we make an impact here and now?”
“As a local church we’re most concerned with people’s souls, but with the economy we need to help meet physical needs as well,” said Howerton. “The Bible tells us not to forget the poor, to remember the poor and needy.”
Holt said there are many ways for people to get involved if they’re interested in helping the food pantry, starting with helping get the word out, (See box). She said both food and monetary donations are needed and that the pantry operates under the church’s umbrellas which a 501 C 3 organization, making donations tax deductible. To offer help or to get additional information, you can call Tina Holt at 479-435-5699. Donations can be made to the pantry by mailing a check to Greenland First Baptist Church, P.O. Box 5, Greenland, AR 72737 with a note in the memo line about it being for the Our Missions Food Pantry.