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Republic’s food pantry rises to meet a growing need

The number of people coming once a week to pick up a one-day supply of food at the People’s Pantry in Republic keeps rising.

A few weeks ago, about 65 individuals with 170 family members came.  Thanksgiving week there were 89 people with 248 family members and the week before, there were 100 with about 300 family members.

Barbara Baum
Barbara Baum

“It’s harder for people with the rising cost of gas, cuts in mental health programs and costs of drugs,” said the Rev. Barbara Baum, pastor of First Presbyterian in Republic for eight years.

Barbara looks forward to an annual benefit event, “Holly Day Harmony.” The evening of music, stories and Christmas carols will begin at 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12, at the church as a benefit for the People’s Pantry.

North Ferry County was once a gold mining, logging and ranching area.  Now it is often the poorest county in the state with the lowest per capita income and unemployment ranging from 12 to 15 percent, she said.

There are Vietnam vets still suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, others with mental illnesses and others who struggle to earn a living.  Some ranchers are land rich but money poor.

While some people may be “stuck” there, Barbara said the people and scenery have stuck on her, a city slicker from Albuquerque in the desert Southwest.

“These people are as important as any people in God’s eyes,” she said. “My passion is hospitality.”

So a few years ago when a man from Moses Lake called and said he had a car full of food to give people, she welcomed him and shared the food in what was the beginning of the People’s Pantry.  Barbara had worked with the previous food bank, which has closed.

The church session agreed to be the pantry’s board and to house it in the church.  Run by volunteers, it serves Ferry County people who need assistance with groceries.

The People’s Pantry has filled those needs since May 2003, respecting the dignity of and caring for the people who come.

One week each month, more than 30 sacks of groceries are delivered to homebound people and seniors.

A satellite site in Curlew is open two mornings per month and serves about 35 people.

“A team of more than 35 volunteers in both locations works graciously and labors long to help with both visible and behind-the-scenes tasks,” Barbara said.

The Republic Pantry alone distributes 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of food each week. It has received grant resources of food and funds from Northwest Harvest, Rural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

First Presbyterian Church is one of 17 churches in Republic, a community where 1,000 of 3,500 North Ferry County residents live.  The southern part of Ferry County is the Colville Indian Reservation.  About 200 live in Curlew. 

“Our economy has been hit hard.  There is genuine need to help feed our friends and neighbors,” Barbara said.  “Alone we could do little, but together, we can do much.

Orders come in a steady stream and shelves seem to empty fast, but the volunteer staff are determined in faith that no one goes away hungry,” she added.

“Community members and merchants give generously from their garden harvest, cupboard over-stocks and funds, bringing donations to the churches.  Several have had and are having food drives to help,” she said.

Seven freezers in different three locations hold perishable food until distribution day.

The People’s Pantry in Republic is open from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Thursdays, and the satellite pantry at Curlew Presbyterian Church is open from 10 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Thursdays.  That location started in October 2003, when Barbara was also pastor there.

Recently, residents in the nursing home unit of Ferry County Memorial Hospital decided to have a food drive for their “Make A Difference Day.” Their activities director delivered groceries to the pantry on a Monday morning, when the pantry was closed.

As the pantry coordinator prepared to leave, she noticed a man outside with a notebook.  He came to the door as she left, said he was looking for an emergency number and asked if there was a way to get help for his family of five. They were having hard times and had no food for the next few days.

Quickly, she prepared an emergency food supply for him, using many of the groceries that had just been delivered by people who wanted to make a difference, Barbara said.

Grocery expenses average more than $600 per month, less than $1 per family member served. 
The People’s Pantry is a community and county effort, made possible by members of the church and community volunteers.  Clients also volunteer.

Barbara sees it as an expression of “love in action.”

All Barbara wanted to do in 1988 when her husband died of cancer under hospice care was to return the caring she and he had received.  She had run a secretarial and accounting business in Albuquerque, and never thought of ministry.

She began volunteering for hospice and decided she wanted to be a hospice chaplain to give back.  She went to San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo to prepare, but a mentoring pastor suggested she take an internship in a church and that drew her into pastoral ministry.

She came to Republic in 1996 right out of seminary.  Recently, she has begun serving as a hospice chaplain in the county.

“I’m sure God chuckles,” she said.  “I didn’t even grow up going to church regularly.  I’m just here to serve the least, just as Jesus wandered the countryside and served all kinds of people.  We have all kinds of people here.  Each person is special.”

The church of 46 members has about that many at worship services each week and its members are active in the church and community, she said.

“We welcome all people,” Barbara said, adding that beyond the difficult economic picture, the community also has well-educated, well-traveled people—musicians, artists and theatre people.
She is energized by working with the volunteers, who range from school children to seniors.

For information, call 509- 775-2257.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2004