Union Hall pantry eases hunger, hearts

Published 6:00 am Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jesus used five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men.

Following that example, Union Hall Baptist Church uses a small,one-room food pantry to feed a handful of needy people in andaround Lincoln County. Two thousand years after the biblical story,the volumes and means are very different, but the spirit of loveremains unchanged.

“This is part of our ministry,” said Gwen Dyess, chairman of thechurch’s food pantry. “I feel as though our church is blessed everyday by the food pantry.”

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Far from 5,000, approximately 40 hungry bellies depend on theold church on Nola Road for nourishment. Compared to the foodpantries operated by St. Francis of Assisi and the behemothBrookhaven Outreach Ministries, Union Hall’s operation is tiny.

But the need it serves is still large.

“A lot of them have lost their jobs, not enough income, they’vehad doctor bills and their money just runs out,” Dyess said of thepantry’s patrons.

There are a few families that depend on Union Hall, but Dyesssaid most of those who call on the food pantry for support aresingle people who have found themselves on the bottom after a long,hard economic year in 2009. Most are from Lincoln County, but somewho choose the church come from as far away as Smithdale andWesson.

“These are people who have never had to ask for food before,”Dyess said. “They just have no money to go buy food.”

With so many people down and out, Union Hall’s food pantrystrives not only to ease their hunger, but to ease theirhearts.

Aside from the canned goods and other bare necessities, theshelves are stocked with extra pleasantries. Coffee, cereal, cakemixes and Jello serve as an added treat for the body and soul forthose who receive assistance from the church.

“We have a variety of foods to make their days a littlehappier,” Dyess said. “At Christmas time, they can bake a cake fortheir family. Some people will say, ‘I haven’t had a cup of coffeein two days,’ and they appreciate that coffee. Some people justcan’t live without it.”

The food pantry is small, and its support is likewise small.

Dyess said the church holds only two promotions per year tostock the pantry’s shelve – a love offering and food drive.Donations of both money and food come primarily from the church’smembership, but Dyess said outside contributors, some anonymous,give regularly.

Perhaps the largest outside contribution is the Holiday FoodPantry drive conducted by the newspaper and the Bank of Brookhaven.Even as hard times manifested last year, the 2008 donation to eachpantry was well in excess of $2,000, the largest donation in thedrive’s six-year history.

More will be needed this year.

Though still small, the number of people who call on UnionHall’s food pantry has doubled since last year. Dyess has alreadyhad to use money from the food pantry’s account to restock theshelves once this year.

“It’s a great help,” she said of the Holiday Food Pantry. “Thepeople of Brookhaven, the people who give, God will blessthem.”

Dyess is hoping the Holiday Food Pantry will record anotherrecord-breaking total this year. With the economy still uncertain,the food pantry could find its numbers doubling again nextyear.

“I don’t want any child to go to bed hungry,” Dyess said.”Somewhere in our lifetime, we’ve been hungry, and we don’t want togo to bed hungry. Give that child a bowl of cereal.”