Small town, big needs: Mobile pantry provides food for neighbors

January 5, 2023

On the first Wednesday of each month, the population of Greenwood increases by a couple of hundred people for a few hours. That’s because Greenwood U.M. Church hosts a mobile food pantry in partnership with the Food Bank of Delaware.

While this pantry serves at least 150 households, the food distribution wouldn’t be possible without a well-coordinated and committed  team of volunteers – most of them senior citizens,  many of whom represent other churches, civic organizations, and nearby communities.

While the pantry officially becomes mobile at 11 a.m., by 10 a.m. cars are lined up, snaking in an orderly pattern designated by orange cones and volunteer traffic directors. Meanwhile, in the church parking lot other volunteers set up tables and assist in unloading the Food Bank pallets setting up an assembly line of food: families will leave with some frozen meat, milk, juice, and bread as well as non-perishable staples.

Diana Eby (pictured on the left) owner of Shawnee Inn east of the heart of town, coordinates the pantry, and although she’s not a member of this church, her commitment to the pantry is a spiritual one. “When we first started, people here were very broken and in need of spiritual care,” she explained. Although she can’t remember when the concept of a food pantry evolved, she believes it was about 12 years ago and evolved through prayer and prayer walks around the town she describes as “very Mayberry.”

The pantry concept grew under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. Michele Russell, and today flourishes with the help of faithful volunteers plus the support of a Facebook page, Greenwood Rejoices.

“It’s really self-propelled,” said Eby, noting that the local VFW members are “so faithful.” Other volunteers, she explains, even find their own replacements when they are not able to participate as planned.

Eby multi-tasks: she stops to talk with volunteers, encouraging them not to overdo the work. She greets residents who walk up to the pantry, and she keeps an eye out of the steady stream of vehicles moving through. “We had 150 signed up for today,” she notes, adding her perspective on why the need for food and support seems to have increased. “I think the gas price jump took people off guard, and that was after a couple of cruddy years. And some of the elderly people here just can’t handle the larger distributions – the lines of traffic, like an airport.”

To reach neighbors unable to drive to the pantry site, Eby purchased two sturdy wagons that are stored in a shed adjacent to the parking lot. Volunteers pack up food in the wagons, then pull them down the street to make a delivery. She also said this site often helps provide resources for unhoused people, offering donated clothing and along with information about calling 211 to access additional support.

“It’s a network. I can’t do it on my own. It would be overwhelming. But I tell people it looks like chaos, but they (the Food Bank) set up and when it’s over, it’s gone,” Eby said.

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