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Food pantry sees increased need

The food pantry at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church began as one of the only food pantries in Lincoln Country.

     Now, 13 years later, the church’s pantry is one of many in the county. But when Mark Nettles, one of the St. Francis food pantry founders, looks around, he still sees plenty of need.

     “There’s always a lot of hungry people,” Nettles said.

     These days, Nettles has passed on day-to-day operations of the pantry off to Paula Gennaro. She finds it easy to keep the work up.

     “There’s a need, I know that,” Gennaro said.

     So far this year, the pantry has served food to about 850 people, Gennaro said. That’s about on track with last year’s numbers, organizers said.

     These numbers have remained pretty steady during the life of the pantry, but Nettles said the economic downtown of recent years has had a noted impact.

     “We see a lot of people that never thought they’d coming to a food pantry,” Nettles said. “But they’ve fallen on hard times. Lost jobs. Got hurt.”

     There are about 10 church volunteers that help Gennaro keep things going. These volunteers go buy the food, stock at the church’s pantry, pack boxes of food for easy distribution and work with people the pantry serves.

     During the holiday season, area residents can help in the work of the St. Francis food pantry. As part of an annual fundraising drive hosted by The DAILY LEADER and the Bank of Brookhaven, donations to local food pantries will be accepted at either business through Dec. 14.

     All proceeds collected will be evenly divided among five local food pantries and ministries, including St. Francis of Assisi, Union Hall Baptist Church, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, the Martha Sykes Center and the Greater Hope Foundation.

     Last year, more than $11,000 was donated to the food pantry drive.

     Nettles said the St. Francis pantry doesn’t receive aid from any external agencies. It operates entirely on donations, most of them from the church.

     Food pantry organizers emphasized the support church members have given the pantry.

     “I can pick up the phone and call about anyone in the church and they will help,” Gennaro said.

     One of these volunteers, Sherry Course, has been with the pantry since it opened.

     A self-described “people person,” Course enjoys the opportunity to help people. Her work with the food pantry also gives her perspective in her own life.

     “You can look at yourself and think you’re doing bad,” Course said. “But then you turn around and there’s someone doing worse.

     For her part, Gennaro was happy to come on board when Nettles recruited her.

     “I didn’t even hesitate; I said ‘yes,'” Gennaro remembers. “As a cancer survivor, I feel this is my way of giving back.”

     Looking back on his work with the pantry, Nettles said he’s learned the truth of an old cliché.

     He said, “It’s better to give than to receive.”