St. Paul food pantry expands with new warehouse

By: Nico Rubello | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 10, 2012

 Henry Leflere, of Clinton Township, stocks shelves at St. Paul of Tarsus Catholic Church’s new food pantry warehouse. He is one of several volunteers who donates his time at the pantry.

Henry Leflere, of Clinton Township, stocks shelves at St. Paul of Tarsus Catholic Church’s new food pantry warehouse. He is one of several volunteers who donates his time at the pantry.

Photo by Nico Rubello

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The middle-age man walked into the food pantry at St. Paul of Tarsus Catholic Church one recent afternoon and asked softly whether he was in the right place for help. He was wearing a nice, collared short-sleeve shirt, and his hands were stuffed sheepishly into his jean pockets.

It was his first time there, or at any food pantry for that matter. Two years after being laid off, the Clinton Township resident, who did not want to be identified, was back to work designing auto assembly lines. The way things were going though, he still needed some food, just temporarily, to float him for the next six weeks.

“I’ve never been the type to need help, so it’s hard to ask for it,” he said, adding that he probably would have never come at all if it weren’t for his children.

While most people give in some way to the community, they feel embarrassed about receiving help, said Darlene Seifert, St. Paul’s food pantry coordinator.

“I think people are humble; they don’t want anyone to know,” she said. “They don’t want to admit they need help.”

St. Paul’s food pantry started roughly 20 years ago for people who needed food on an emergency basis, but within the last few years, the pantry’s clientele list has grown as jobs became scarcer, she said.

Now, with its newly expanded food pantry, which was made possible through a church add-on that was completed last month, the pantry is growing fast to keep up with its growing list of customers.

Seifert said the pantry serves about 130 families every month. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Before collecting food, all clients check in with Seifert, who validates their address. They are then given a tag that indicates how many people in their house they’re collecting food for.

“There are no income requirements. If you’re hungry and can’t afford food, come here,” she said.

At the counter, volunteers bring bags of nonperishable foods, meat and toiletries back from the new warehouse, where other volunteers are sorting donations and stocking shelves.

Before the addition, food was being stored in a smaller room that was about the size of a one-car garage.

“They just had a couple of small shelves and they were keeping a couple of select items,” Seifert said. “This allows us to accept more donations, serve more families and let them come more often.”

All of the items come either from individual donations, the Macomb County Community Services Agency food bank or the church purchases them.

Many of those who come into the food pantry live in Clinton Township, but they also come from surrounding communities. Some have been referred by local service agencies, like United Way or the Michigan Department of Human Services.

“We’d like to grow to say they can come every week,” he said.

Church organizers now hope to expand the pantry’s operations to match the increase in space, and to do that, they’re going to need more volunteers, Seifert said. Volunteers don’t need to be a member of St. Paul, but they will need to undergo a background check and take a free class.

“We do have a good group of people here, so that makes it all the better,” said Henry Leflere, who began volunteering at the pantry more than a year ago. “Years ago, I worked midnights and I just didn’t have the time. … Now that I’m retired and I have the time, I love it. It’s really rewarding.”

Tony Schulte, a six-month pantry volunteer, said he likes the fact that the pantry now has its own entrance and two new parking spaces reserved just for pantry visitors.

“It’s a dedicated entrance, which, I think, makes the people feel special, like we want to provide this service,” he said. “I think it’s a great way to treat our clients.”

The pantry also is taking more donations.

“We’ll take anything from toothbrushes to fresh fruit to anything they can think of,” Seifert said. “The more food we have falling off our shelves, the more people we can feed coming through out doors.”

For more information about the food pantry, call (586) 228-1210, ext. 130.