On any given day that St. Stephens Episcopal Church’s Chard Wray Food Pantry is open, between 40 and 50 families in need show up. That’s in addition to homeless people who are served that volunteers have no way of counting.

At any rate, volunteers can say with certainty that the number of people in need in this community has steadily increased as of late. 

“On Tuesday — we have a long drive that people will park in — and it was completely full, and people were out in the street waiting to turn in,” said Pam Garrett, interim director of the food pantry.

The origins of The Chard Wray Food Pantry date back to 1974 when a young woman named Elizabeth showed up at the church in search of food for her family. Her predicament struck a 16-year-old young man in the church named Chard Wray.

“Chard heard about it and couldn’t believe that people didn’t have food and decided to do something about it,” Garrett said. “So, the church helped her, but then Chard decided that they needed to do more. So we started with a closet at the church, and it grew into a classroom, and then into a building across the street.” 

Chard died in a car accident at age 21, and when the church decided to officially open the food pantry, it was named in his memory. 

Fast forward nearly 50 years, and the pantry has served families ever since, providing groceries to Baldwin County residents who have access to cooking facilities but are unable to afford nutritious food throughout the month. 

The church purchases food from The Middle Georgia Food Bank, and other groceries are donated. Bags typically include canned meats, dry beans and rice, canned fruit, peanut butter and jelly, pasta, pasta sauce and vegetables. Single families receive a USDA bag and a donation bag, while those with children get additional food. 

“We try to concentrate heavily on proteins and healthy proteins,” said Garrett, whose background is as a women’s health nurse practitioner.

While local families are served, there are also homeless in the community that come in search of food so the pantry always keeps pop top food items, as well as plastic forks and packages. 

“We can give them things that they can eat even if they’re living on the street…,” Garrett said. “If you come and you need something, we’re gonna give you something.”

Right now, donations of all types are certainly needed.

“The food bank right now is not getting the amount and the variety of food that they had been getting, so that limits what we can get,” Garrett said. 

Garrett began volunteering with the pantry three years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun. At the time, food trucks were giving away a great deal of food in addition to extra government supplements that were being provided, which meant the pantry was not as busy at the time. 

Today is a different story.

“All of that stuff has stopped, so yes, I’ve been very surprised by how many people we have…,” Garrett said. “We’ve gotten a lot busier. The Food Bank of Middle Georgia recently stopped bringing the big food trucks where they were giving away massive amounts of food, and so all of the sudden, everybody’s coming to us, so we need any help we can get.”

Garrett said the pantry could also use volunteers. Currently, the pantry is open two days a week, but they will return to three days after the new year. Volunteers are needed to make bags of food, gather required information from families, take food to cars and more.

Food donations are always needed as well and can be brought to the pantry during operating hours. Garrett said while they have an abundance of canned vegetables, they need items like canned meats, canned fruit, peanut butter, spaghetti and meat sauce. 

Monetary donations can be sent directly to the church with a note stating the donation is for the food pantry, and checks may be made out to the church with “Chard Wray Food Pantry” designated in the “for” location.

Garrett sees the difference the pantry makes each month as she and other volunteers get to know those who come again and again.

“Usually it’s just gratitude,” she said of the reaction they are met with. “We treat everybody with great respect because we know that it is very hard to come and admit that you can’t feed yourself or your family.”

Chard Wray Food Pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and will be open on Wednesdays as well after the new year. Anyone interested in volunteering can email Garrett at pag8406@gmail.com

“It is a ministry of love,” she said. “As far as I look at it, the Bible says, ‘Feed my people,’ and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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