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LCS Unity Food Pantry - It’s Not Just About the Food

Published on 10/11/2021
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Jenn Ruebush
Community Outreach Coordinator

The LCS Food Pantry at Unity Lutheran Church is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Each individual or family can come to the pantry once per week, and they receive enough food for three days.  For those who may need more food assistance, we have lists of other pantries in the area.  At Unity, for example, pantry coordinator Richard Porto can tell you the schedules for St. Stephen’s and LCS Choice Pantry without even looking at the list.  Our coordinators and volunteers strive to do all they can to connect our clients to resources available to them.

Richard has served at the Unity pantry for 16 or 17 years.  He knows the ropes, and he knows what it’s like to find yourself in a situation you never expected.  When he was in his 40’s, his wife had a stroke, and he had to quit his job to take care of her. Richard tells, “It’s how I was raised. My dad took care of my mom.” Much of her family lived with them on and off, his wife had a second stroke, and he struggled to make ends meet. A social worker at Christiana Care arranged for him to get food at the LCS pantry at Unity. While that helped, he needed more. At one point, his wife had 17 different prescriptions, and he just didn’t have the money. When he saw people leaving St. Philip’s Lutheran Church with bags of food, he found out about their food pantry.

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Out of necessity, Richard became well-versed in finding resources and learning more about the community. Once he was able to get his feet under him, he wanted to give back. He volunteered at St. Philip’s, St. Stephen’s, Unity, and the Hope mobile pantry. During that time, he made good friends and saw how much people wanted to help others. Eventually, Richard went from volunteer to site coordinator and moved into his current role. Knowing the schedules for different pantries helps him now as he guides others who come to Unity.

However, he and the volunteers know they have more of a role to play. “It’s not just about the food,” Richard explains, “It’s about the relationships. Asking, ‘How are you doing? How are the kids?’ is just as or more important than getting their order.” He recalls one family who started coming with an infant in tow. He found out they were having trouble affording diapers and baby supplies, so he asked for donations from the pulpit at his church. The members were very giving. Now that baby is 4 or 5, and Richard tries to remember fruit snacks or another treat whenever they come to Unity.

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When clients arrive, Richard and volunteers greet and welcome them. After signing in, clients choose from options of grains, proteins, and dairy. Richard remembers what he gave a client the last time and tries to alternate items for some variety. The pantry workers learn what different clients prefer and look out for them if something special comes in. ACME provides baked goods through their food rescue program. Unity’s new garden provides fresh produce.

One of the volunteers, Jack, has been coming to Unity for 6 years. He went to LCS looking for ways to serve others and was sent to help Richard. Jack comes once every week. He arrives ready to work and knows his way around the supplies. The volunteers become their own little community, and they enjoy building relationships with each other and with clients. On this occasion, Richard and Jack are trying to remember the name of a character from a tv show they both used to watch. These relationships make LCS what it is for volunteers as well as clients.

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“Mostly, we want folks to know that we are there for them,” Richard emphasizes. “We share information on LCS services and the schedules of other pantries. Pre-COVID, we also had clothing.” If you come to Unity as a client or a volunteer, you’ll quickly see that who you are matters as much as - or more than - why you came.

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