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Deep Shelves, Deep Need

It’s a fairly small room, but deep shelves line most of the available wall space.

     Deep shelves for deep need. That’s how St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church members see it.

     For about 16 years now, those church members have sought to transform their “seeing” into action and have operated a food pantry to help alleviate hunger in the community.

     “A lot of stuff comes through that room,” said Debbie Corley, church administrator. “We have great people here and they believe in giving.”

     The food pantry isn’t about the reputation or prestige of the church, though, but about the mission of the church.

     “In the Bible, God said feed his people,” said Willie Smith, who got the food pantry going at the church.

     Corley agrees.

     “I think the church has a responsibility to the community around them,” she said.

     That responsibility has been increasing, with demand at the pantry headed only increasingly up. It’s now common to help feed nine families in a week, whereas that used to be an average number for a month.

     The pantry also used to open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but pantry organizers have recently added extra open days on Monday and Thursday as well.

     Except for Wednesday, the pantry is usually open from 10 a.m. until noon.

     Wednesday hours are more flexible, but tend to be in the late afternoon. Hours can vary at times, because they’re subject to the availability of volunteers.

     The pantry is a year-round ministry, but organizers say demand noticeably picks up at this time of the year. This most recent Thanksgiving, the church fed about 40-45 people.

     And during the holiday season, area residents can help St. Paul and other local food banks keep pace with rising demand. Through Dec. 14, The DAILY LEADER and the Bank of Brookhaven will accept donations to benefit local food pantries.

     All donations collected will be divided evenly among five local food pantries, including the one at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

     The church has had food drives to stock up, and uses donations to help offset food costs. Pantry organizers said all donations received through the holiday food pantry drive will go toward the purchase of more food.

     The food pantry grew out of the vision of Smith.

     “We kept seeing a need,” Smith said. “Folks kept coming by the church asking for food, and that’s when we started it.”

     In 2004, though, when military duty called him to Iraq, Smith handed day-to-day operations off to Sue Smith (no relation).

     “The director then put it in my hands when he had to go serve,” Sue Smith said.

     She still calls Willie Smith the man in charge, though.

     “I consider myself more or less an assistant,” she said. “This is Willie’s ministry.”

     In addition to Sue Smith, there are about five volunteers actively involved in the food pantry.

     Sue Smith does the needed paperwork, makes sure the pantry remains stocked with supplies, shelves food and has to watch over the freezer and the room where the food is to ensure correct temperatures are maintained. She also remains available for emergency requests.

     Sue Smith also generally collects the food from the Mississippi Food Network, either by driving to Jackson or sometimes to Magnolia.

     Though she works hard, Sue Smith finds her reward waiting for her at the end of each day.

     “Giving back, that’s more gratifying to me than anything else,” Smith said. “To see the end result, to see how grateful they are.”

     Willie Smith agreed, offering a very similar account of where his motivation comes from.

     He said, “If you see those families come by, especially at this time of the year, just look at those kid’s faces.”