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A Caring Crew Keeps the LCS Pantry at St. Stephen’s On Course

Published on 09/03/2021
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Jenn Ruebush
Community Outreach Coordinator

Think of a place where a college student in Delaware for the summer would spend two and a half to three hours every weekday. Now picture a machinist giving back to his community. Finally, where do you see yourself spending time during retirement? If you envisioned the well-organized LCS food pantry at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Wilmington, that is exactly where all three could be found on a bright, sunny morning in August. LCS provides the funds, supplies, and partnership support for the St. Stephen’s pantry, which is the largest of our 14 food distribution sites. Open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., the pantry sees a steady flow of clients.

St. Stephen’s pastor, the Rev. Jason Churchill, is certified in mission redevelopment. In their annual report, Rev. Churchill wrote, “When people think of St. Stephen's, they think of the feeding ministry. I never believed I would be serving a church with such a robust ministry dedicated to feeding the people of God.” According to their website, the LCS pantry at St. Stephen’s, “is the largest volume Lutheran food pantry in the state of Delaware. It provides three days of emergency food provisions.” This summer, the pantry at St. Stephen’s fed over 600 families (1,100 to 1,300 individuals) each month. Bringing all of this together on the personal level is Kanchalee Reeves, Food Pantry Coordinator. (She also serves as the Communications Coordinator and Office Administrator of St. Stephen’s). 

To mix a few metaphors, the LCS St. Stephen’s Pantry is a beacon in the dark, a well-oiled machine, and a  smooth-sailing ship. Tom, a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan found himself in Delaware with his mother, who came here temporarily to coordinate shelving installation at Amazon. Tom found out about the LCS pantry at St. Stephen’s from volunteer Vince Nugent and decided to check it out. That led to Tom volunteering every day the pantry was open (Monday through Friday) for the entire summer. Tom said, “It’s a good way to start the day. Otherwise, I’d just be sleeping in!” For Kanchalee, Tom proved to be indispensable in filling the gap in volunteers over the summer due to vacations and injuries. Serving the community and making connections with the other volunteers must have been rewarding for Tom as well. He said he plans to look for a food pantry to volunteer at back in Michigan.

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Bill, a bit further out of college, found out about the pantry at a St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Bible study. He has volunteered since 2011. He spends some of the rest of his time showing visitors to Hagley Museum the wonders of the Machine Shop. Just like the gears and the pulleys work together to power a drill, Bill and all the volunteers each do their part to keep the pantry running. Kanchalee coordinates all the moving pieces: receiving food rescue items from ACME in Trolley Square and Sprouts on Rt. 202, accepting donations and deliveries, storing food and stocking shelves, taking orders, and distributing them to community members in need. When a volunteer cancels last-minute, it causes a kink in the system. Consistent and reliable volunteers make a huge difference.

Retirees Nell and Peg appreciate having a fun and satisfying place to spend some of their time serving others. This day, Nell greets and checks in clients, noting their food choices on a slip of paper. She explains, “We get to know the clients. For example, we have someone who loves soft pretzels, so we try to have some for him.” Next, Peg enters the name and order into a tablet while instructing Tom what to put into a bag or box for the client. Once the order is ready, Tom takes it outside to the person waiting for it. Peg attends St. Philip’s Lutheran Church and heard about the food pantry at St. Stephen’s. She appreciates how “Kanchalee runs a tight ship and keeps us in line!” They all laugh and clearly enjoy working together.

To have all hands on deck requires five to seven volunteers each day. Out front, Nell and Tom interact with the clients. Peg works as the commander, overseeing orders. Bill and Charlie keep shelves stocked and bring needed items to Peg. Everyone knows the system, which keeps orders from backing up. Charlie, a Charter School of Wilmington graduate who is heading off to college at Villanova, started last summer and comes in once a week, plus he helps unload Wednesday’s deliveries. He found out about LCS from his mom, who is a social worker. Kanchalee coordinates around 50 volunteers and would welcome more.

Having a clear process keeps the pantry moving and makes it easy for clients. Throughout the week, volunteers prepare bags of shelf-stable items based on the number of people for the order and then label and shelve them. Then, when filling orders, they just grab the correct bag and add the choice and extra items. They have some special diets and requests, including gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian. The volunteers remember clients and their preferences, and try to distribute the food as equitably as possible.

Sometimes the pantry runs out of items, most often diapers (especially sizes 4, 5, and 6), adult diapers, shampoo, and even jelly. “When we’re out, we’re out,” Peg says, “but it’s amazing just how generous the churches and individuals are. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had one man give out cash to those in line.” Kanchalee agrees, “We have several individuals who donate regularly.” They also receive generous donations of fresh produce from the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, other community gardens, and individuals. Last year, Good Shepherd held weekly drives for nonperishables and other necessities and provided $22,000 worth of goods to the pantry. The Junior League of Wilmington donates menstrual products through their “Stand Up. Period.” campaign. ACME and Sprouts support LCS through their food rescue programs.

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When asked about the biggest challenge with running the food pantry, Kanchalee says, “We can‘t have people inside when it’s cold or hot or raining. Fortunately, we have cold water to hand out thanks to a big donation of cases of water.” Her answer shows her biggest concern truly is for the individuals they serve. The biggest surprise has been the donors, particularly during the pandemic. Kanchalee explains, “We have three or four people who text every day of the week asking what we need.” She adds that throughout the pandemic, St. Stephen’s LCS pantry never closed. Some volunteers took on more shifts, and neighbors stepped up to keep it going even when other volunteers had to stop due to COVID-19. Meeting, getting to know, and serving clients gives back volunteers as much as they give. Find out for yourself by joining us!

To learn about volunteering with LCS, visit our website at https://lcsde.org/volunteer.

St. Stephen’s accepts donations Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon. Advance notice helps Kanchalee prepare - please reach out to her at 302-652-7623 or office@ststeph.org.

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