The shelves were fairly bare recently inside the food pantry operated by Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal. But that was due to the number of people it assisted during its February distribution.

The shelves were fairly bare recently inside the food pantry operated by Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal. But that was due to the number of people it assisted during its February distribution.

“I think we served 53 people that came in those three hours we were open that week and that served something like 140 people,” said Connie Craig, a member of the church’s Benevolence Committee.

The church has had a food pantry of some type for over two decades, according to Craig.

“Sometimes it was handled just on a small scale, where we would have a few things and when someone would come in the office the church secretary would take care of getting a few things for them,” she said. “Probably within the past five or six years we kind of moved it up a notch and we have certain days that we're there and certain hours.”

Fifth Street hands out boxes filled with food during the hours it is open the first full week of each month.

“The church secretary fields a lot of (food-related) calls and pretty much directs them to come in on the Tuesdays and Thursdays (the food pantry is manned),” said Craig.

Those receiving assistance are asked to provide some basic information.

“We know when they're there and if we can do anything to help them out in other ways. We don't have a large Benevolence Fund, but we help with food when we can,” said Craig.

Not all the items handed out are purchased with funds sets aside in Fifth Street’s Benevolence Fund.

“There are some church members who will bring in donations. If they see a bargain somewhere along the way they will pick up a case of macaroni and cheese or soup, those kinds of things that we can put on the shelves,” said Craig. “There are a couple of other churches that contribute to our food pantry. Antioch Baptist and Immanuel will take up a food collection periodically and drop by with food donations for our food pantry for us to give out.”

Methodist assistance

Fifth Street Baptist is not the only Hannibal church with an active food pantry. Also providing assistance to Hannibal’s hungry is First United Methodist Church.

“The food pantry has grown since I've been here,” said the Rev. Helen McFarland, who has been with the church for seven years. “When I came we were serving 30 to 35 families a month. It is now up closer to 300 families a month. Last month it was 282 families and that's like over 800 individuals.”

According to McFarland, the Arch, Park, Hydesburg, Scott's Chapel, and Saverton-Illasco Methodist congregations also contribute food.

“We're the (distribution) site because we're in the best location for serving,” she said. “There's a lot of different groups that help us out with the food pantry, otherwise we could not keep that food pantry going, not at the rate it has grown.”

While First United Methodist’s food pantry is open Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to noon, people may only receive items once a month.

“We can't give it out more than one time because of the numbers we are serving,” said McFarland.

First United Methodist Church is also the site of the Loaves & Fishes ministry, which provides meals to walk-in visitors each weekday afternoon.

“There's a hot meal served by 20 plus groups that come in. Several groups alternate on the same night,” said McFarland.

The number of people coming in for meals can vary greatly.

“It depends on the weather,” said McFarland. “When it's really bad weather we will get smaller amounts because a number of people walk to get meals. From 45 to 55 is kind of an average.

“The majority of people that come here are not homeless. They may be hungry, but they're not homeless. I'd bet you could count most of the truly homeless on one hand.”

Coordinating efforts

Efforts have been started to coordinate all the food distribution efforts within Hannibal. Invitations were sent out to a number of food providers within the community to attend a “town hall” meeting scheduled the last week of February.

“There’s a lot of hunger insecurity in Hannibal. There’s also quite a lot of agencies that are trying to solve the problem and it just seems like we could be a lot more strategic about how we attack this problem,” said Lori Dowil, community action chairwoman at General Mills. “There are all these really great pockets of committed people trying to solve the problem, but I’m wondering if we work together to map it all out and streamline the process if somehow we’ll reduce all the overhead for the different agencies. Then maybe we could get more bang for our buck.”

Before a coordinated effort can occur, the resources must be identified, according to Dowil.

“We need to figure out where the biggest need is. Is it more kids are hungry? Is it more adults that are hungry? Is it not being able to get to where the food is? Is it that there’s not enough food there? There are a lot of issues when it comes to solving a problem like this,” she said.

Dowil believes the number of groups trying to address the problem is growing.

“It seems like there is more of an interest. As the economy has taken a turn, that’s when we saw the increased need,” she said. “I think there’s actually more resources available now than before. There’s more agencies interested in helping. The food bank has been a strong partner with us. The thing with the food bank is it’s pretty unpredictable. One week you may have a truckload. The next week it may be a few palates. I know that has been a hang-up for food pantries. They don’t know from one week to the next what they’re going to have available.”

How difficult will it be to get different groups to work together?

“I think that will be easy,” said Dowil. “The hard part will be figuring out the details.”

Both Craig and McFarland are optimistic that local efforts to coordinate food assistance will be well received.

“For us at our church I think we'd be more than happy to work with somebody,” said Craig. “We would be happy to work with other churches or however we could coordinate this to benefit the entire community. Whatever would be best for folks that are in need. We want to help feed people.”

“I would pray that they would be able to find a way to work together and set aside their own ‘this-is-our-ministry’ attitude and come together and work,” added McFarland.