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Pantry offers hope and help

She pulled a plastic bag out and began to fill it with grocery items like canned vegetables, salad dressing and a skillet dinner, all the while making easy conversation with the woman in front of her.

     Was Helen Irvin at work? No. She’s on a mission.

     For about two years now, Irvin has been among a dedicated group of about 15 volunteers that keep the food pantry of the Greater Hope Foundation rolling along.

     It’s the kind of work Irvin finds rewarding, because she wants to be right where the people are.

     “I enjoy working with people,” she said. “I’d rather be hands on.”

     The Greater Hope Foundation is sponsored by Greater Hope Missionary Baptist Church, both of the New Sight community.

     The foundation opened the doors of a food pantry about nine years ago and hasn’t slowed down since.

     For volunteers like Irvin, though, the work is about more than just feeding the hungry. She aims to know the people she helps serve and meet more than their physical needs.

     “You talk with people, you try to encourage them,” Irvin said.

     She picks up on the little personal details. A man coming through the line may mention that he does most of the cooking at home. A woman may pick out a certain grocery item and say it’s a favorite of her husband’s.

     Those are the sort of things Irvin remembers at the end of each day’s work at the food pantry.

     That work also helps her cultivate a personal sense of gratitude, Irvin said.

     The Greater Hope pantry distributes food on the second and last Thursday of each month.

     Flora Kelly, a key organizer behind the food pantry, said the foundation serves 130 to 150 families a month.

     Today marks the last day the local community can join together with the hard work of volunteers like Kelly and Irvin by participating in The Daily Leader and Bank of Brookhaven’s food pantry drive.

     Throughout the month of December, and ending today, donations have been taken at both businesses. The total money collected will be split among six food pantries at local churches and ministries, including Bethel A.M.E. Church, The Greater Hope Foundation, The Martha Sykes Center, St. Francis of Assisi Church, St. Paul M.B. Church and Union Hall Baptist Church

     Kelly said she purchases much of the food at the pantry from the Mississippi Food Network and on wholesale. She relies on donations to provide the money she needs to buy the food and keep the pantry going.

     Those donations and the work of volunteers like Irvin enable the Greater Hope Foundation to continue serving the community.

     “We couldn’t survive without volunteers,” Kelly said.