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Food pantry drive sets new record

Lots of people talk about the generosity of Brookhaven andLincoln County residents, but the Bank of Brookhaven and The DAILYLEADER have the deposit slips to prove it.

The two companies’ annual Holiday Food Pantry drive crossed thefive-digit mark for the first time in its seven-year history, withlocal citizens donating $10,200 to help feed the hungry thisChristmas. Wednesday afternoon, that total was divided evenly amongthe three local pantries the drive supports, resulting in a $3,400check each for Brookhaven Outreach Ministries, St. Francis ofAssisi and Union Hall Baptist Church.

“I was amazed. I got through adding it all up and thought,’man,'” said Bank of Brookhaven Vice President Shannon Aker. “Wecouldn’t be more appreciative of everyone in our town.”

Even though this year’s total is record-setting – and trumps the2009 total by almost $3,000 – more money will come in for the foodpantries in the coming days, Aker said.

“We’ll have some people who will continue giving because theydidn’t realize it was over. This number will go up a little,” hesaid. “That’s why it’s so good to live in Mayberry – people seem torespond when there’s a need.”

This year’s high-water mark pushes the Holiday Food Pantrydrive’s seven-year total over $50,000, coming in at $51,081. Thedrive began in 2003 with $7,800 and dropped to $5,000 in 2004.Hurricane Katrina canceled the drive in 2005.

In 2006, the Holiday Food Pantry drive rebounded to $7,100, butdipped again in 2007 to $5,200. More than $8,200 was raised in2008, but that number fell to more than $7,500 in 2009.

To The DAILY LEADER Publisher Bill Jacobs, the most noteworthyaspect of the drive’s breaking of the $50,000 mark is the way localgenerosity has held up since 2007, when the economic recessionbegan to squeeze the nation.

“It’s interesting to think of what the country has gone throughin those years, and yet Brookhaven and Lincoln County stillrecognizes those in need,” he said. “We have an incredibly graciouscommunity.”

The gracious community has made for some grateful food pantries,which plan to use the $3,400 injection to restock what are quicklybecoming bare shelves. Demand has been high in 2010, said MarkNettles, president of St. Francis of Assisi’s food pantry.

“We’re down real low right now,” he said. “I don’t know if we’dhave been doing it another month without this donation. We helpfeed between 200 and 250 families a month.”

Gwen Dyess, chairman of Union Hall Baptist Church’s food pantry,said demand in 2010 has been “much more” than it was in 2009. Thepantry helps about 80 families year-round.

“The food pantry is getting pretty low. This drive helpstremendously,” she said. “Our little church takes up donations oncea year. The people of Brookhaven are so generous, and have been allthe 40 years I’ve lived here.”

The money is also needed at Brookhaven Outreach Ministries,where the Rev. Jerry Durr is helping feed more than 500 familiesper month.

“This has been one of the most financially-draining years forall agencies, especially non-profits,” he said. “This is truly ablessing – people are seeing the need, across the whole nation andin our local community.”