Lord’s Pantry volunteers Debra Green, left, and Isaac Jones, right, bag food items at the pantry’s facility on West Society Avenue on Thursday. During the 2011 calendar year, the organization distributed 13,455 bags and boxes of groceries to its clients.
ALBANY, Ga. — Since its first client was served nearly 38 years ago, the Lord’s Pantry in Albany has grown from serving a single bag of groceries to helping out more than 2,800 individual clients in a single calendar year.
And the volunteers show no signs of stopping.
“We are here to give food and clothing at no cost at all,” said Tom Wilburn, volunteer and president of the pantry’s board of directors. “Compassion is still alive in Albany.”
The late Henry Duggan founded the pantry after discovering while working at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital that there were patients being discharged without any food to eat at home. He, along with the help of several others, set up the operation and served their first client on the 500 block of South Van Buren Street on Jan. 27, 1975.
Since Jan. 1, 2000, the organization has helped more than 15,000 individual clients and their family members. On a monthly basis, it distributes roughly 1,000 bags of groceries, volunteers with the organization say.
Clients come in every 30 days as needed, bringing a form of identification with them. On their first visit, clients fill out a form that allows the volunteers at the facility to keep track of how many people need assistance per household and how often they stop by.
“We are trying to provide a safety net for them (the clients),” Wilburn said.
In terms of eligibility, Wilburn said all is generally required is that there is a need. A single person making more than $1,000 a month is not eligible to receive a food box, but can still receive a few food items in bags.
“We don’t turn anybody away,” he said. “We know there are folks who are going to take advantage, but our approach is to take care of the needy and let the good Lord (deal with) the greedy.
“We do our level best to help people over the hump.”
Since most of the food items distributed have to be cooked, there is a special collection set aside for food that can be eaten directly out of its container for giving to homeless individuals seeking assistance.
Since the recession kicked in a few years go, Wilburn said, the pantry’s client base has increased significantly. He expects it to continue growing.
The holidays alone can get hectic, in terms of both client and donation traffic.
“The holidays are much busier,” Wilburn said. “We have had folks from various churches come in and ask for names of families to provide for. The churches have really supported us, as well as a lot of individuals.”
During 2011 alone, there were 2,867 clients served, 1,314 of whom came in just one time during the year. There was an average of 2.61 visits per client, and 1,127 first-time clients were served.
At the same time, there were 13,455 bags and boxes of groceries and 41,880 clothing items given out, volunteers say.
“One thing we are trying to dispel is the notion of how a pantry works. (The common belief is that) we have a list of folks coming in to get a box of food every month,” said C.B. Fincher, another Lord’s Pantry volunteer. “In reality, we have a lot of one-timers.
“That tells me that (we are used) as a safety net. When they (the clients) are struggling, or when things are tight, they know they can come here to get help.”
Fincher said he got involved with the Lord’s Pantry through an Exchange Club of which he and Duggan were members. He was asked to serve on the board of directors and later as an interim director.
Ten years ago, it was determined that a director was not needed to run the organization, Fincher said.
Having helped about 20,000 people over the last five years, volunteers say the pantry remains one of the largest customers for the Second Harvest of South Georgia.
“There are a lot of towns bigger than ours that don’t have help available on a daily basis,” Fincher said.
This is all done with a group of roughly 30 volunteers who contribute a few hours a week working in various assigned capacities in the pantry’s 4,280-square-foot facility at 219 W. Society Ave. — which was completed in February 1997 and later expanded to its current size.
Its financial support base — rather than grant funding — consists of roughly 150 individuals, churches, civic organizations, business and area foundations. It provides services from 7:30 a.m. through about 11 a.m. on every weekday except for holidays.
The organization assists roughly 30 people a day, Wilburn said.
A cash flow statement provided by officials at the pantry indicates that the charity had a total income of $35,421 and $44,267 in expenses — which includes $9,097 in overhead expenses.
This means that the Lords Pantry is in the red by $8,846 — which puts it in a deeper shortfall than it has ever been, Wilburn said. The organization is always looking for donations, whether monetary or in the form of food and clothing. There is a particular need right now for men’s clothing, volunteers at the organization say.
The Lord’s Pantry can be contacted by calling (229) 435-0911.