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Season Of Giving: Union Hall pantry thankful for drive

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Gwen Dyess, chairman of the food pantry at Union Hall Baptist Church, organizes food items in preparation for Christmas.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Gwen Dyess, chairman of the food pantry at Union Hall Baptist Church, organizes food items in preparation for Christmas.

Today marks the last day to donate to the Holiday Food Pantry drive, the joint effort between The Daily Leader and the Bank of Brookhaven to raise money for food to be distributed to the less fortunate this holiday season.

Donations to the drive end at 5 p.m. Thursday and can be submitted to the front desk of The Daily Leader or to the Bank of Brookhaven any time up until then.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 18, the final tally is just short of $8,000, coming from 50 separate donors. So far, 19 of the donations come from anonymous sources and totals $3,362.

Wednesday afternoon, chairman of the food pantry at Union Hall Baptist Church Gwen Dyess was arranging various pastas, canned vegetables and fruits, pasta, peanut butter and other nutritional food items in the fellowship hall at the church. It is something Dyess has been doing for the last 12 to 13 years.

Involved with the Holiday Food Pantry since it’s inception, Dyess appreciates the service, especially during the holidays.

“The holiday drive is a blessing to the church. It has become an ongoing mission within the community for those who need help,” said Dyess.

Dyess, whose pantry supplies meals for close to 75 families a year, says the holiday season is particularly special to her.

“There is nothing I value more than the smile of a young boy or girl. Sometimes, I will add a doll or a toy to the food buggy – something unexpected – just to see their reaction. I get great joy from it.”

Unlike most of the other food pantries in the city, Union Hall’s food pantry doesn’t rely on state funding or grants. Dyess explains the scope of the operation.

“We are small but flexible. We don’t have set times. If there is a need, I will make arrangements. Often, I can take care of it that day,” Dyess explains.

In years past, food pantries have become accustomed to the holiday drive and have come to rely upon the generosity of the local community. Pantries see a surge in need for nutritional food during the holiday season, said Paula Gennaro, food pantry director at St. Francis Assisi Church/St. Vincent de Paul.

“It’s not just food. It’s food that is high in protein and nutrition. It’s healthy.”

Besides the Union Hall Baptist Church food pantry, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Francis of Assisi/St. Vincent de Paul, Bethel AME Church and the Greater Hope Foundation food pantries will also be among those assisting with the holiday giving this year.

After the drive is officially over, donations will then be distributed to five local food pantries in town, just in time for Christmas, said vice president of the Bank of Brookhaven Shannon Aker Wednesday.