Local pantry offers food, hope

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
The Rev. Phil Honeycutt gives out advice as well as food at the Community Food Pantry.

The Rev. Phil Honeycutt gives more than food to those who come hungry to the Community Food Pantry, 16 W. Broadway.
“I also try to give them hope,” Honeycutt said.
For some, hope has all but evaporated from their lives.
Honeycut gave some recent examples: A man’s efforts to find work is consistently rebuffed by area employers. To make his plight worse, his brother is hospitalized with a terminal illness.
A woman’s utilities were disconnected in the middle of her cooking a meal for her children.
Another man’s situation is so dire, “he told me — and he was serious — that maybe it would be better for him to give up and die,” Honeycutt said.
“A lot of the people we serve have more problems than you see on the surface,” Honeycutt said. “Some can’t afford medicine, but they still need to eat.
“They’re distressed, sometimes angry,” he said. “Some come in and have reached the point where they don’t know what to do.”
Counseling is a part of Honeycutt’s response. So is prayer.
“I talk to people, help them understand that if they budget what money they have and choose the right food, they can make things stretch out longer,” he said. “I also encourage them to make the right decisions and to find a church, where they can have a support system.
“And I tell them God is always there. He’ll listen any time of the day or night.”

THE PANTRY, operated by the Iola Area Ministerial Association, shows the effects of the recession.
“Look at the shelves,” Honeycutt said. “They’re not nearly as full as they usually are. We need more food. It’s going much faster than it used to. People are out of work and for some reason we seem to have more people moving here, and they’re coming to the pantry looking for help.”
This summer more than 700 families have sought assistance. Some days as many as 60 come for food. “We are getting more all the time,” Honeycutt said.
Last summer, about 150 families came to the pantry, less than a quarter as many as this year.
“It’s easy to see why it’s hard to keep food on the shelves,” Honeycutt said.
The pantry is open 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Fridays. Those seeking assistance are encouraged not to become regulars, but to use the food as a stopgap measure in their efforts to find work or find other arrangements.
Even so, “we don’t send anyone away hungry,” Honeycutt said.
Sometimes Honeycutt has cash to help with rent, utilities and medical bills. He doesn’t right now. “We’re expecting another federal grant before long, maybe in October,” he said.
The pantry receives occasional and unsolicited cash donations, as well as food from businesses, churches and individuals. Cash donations provide means to make purchases from the Kansas Food Bank in Wichita, at prices far below retail.
The food bank stockpiles food from several sources, including donations made by large companies and food retrieved from wrecked transports, and makes it available to soup kitchens and pantries such as Iola’s. At the food bank Honeycutt can buy a case of 24 two-pound packages of ground beef for $7.68 or a case of six two-pound packages of sliced turkey breast for $1.92.
Locally, large stocks of food come from drives, such as the one conducted each year by Iola letter carriers, and donations from over-stocked company picnics, as well as individuals touched by the need. Gardeners bring fresh vegetables.
Giving peaks around holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but “we need food the year round and particularly in the summer when kids are out of school.” During the school year many children eat breakfast and lunch at school.
Needs today are many, from pancake mix to boxed foods such as rice and pasta to canned vegetables, peanut butter and fruit. Flour, sugar, milk, cereal and condiments always are in demand.
Boxes are prepared according to family size, with some attention given to whether children or strictly adults are involved.
“We try to be good stewards of the food we have to distribute,” Honeycutt said, “and sometimes it’s difficult when you see needs you can’t meet.”