A Maple Valley church is fighting hunger one food item at a time with the help of its free pantry that church members created.
St. George Episcopal Church in Maple Valley has created a pantry structure in front of the church that supplies food and hygiene items for anyone that needs it, according to Tiffany Guerzon, the Youth Group Leader of St. George.
She said the entire pantry was made by her youth group, ranging from grades six to 12.
“My youth group always wants to do things like go to Africa and help people there and we’ve been trying to focus more on projects that are closer to home and I’m part of the local Buy Nothing group and I kept noticing that people would occasionally post that they needed food for their family because they just couldn’t make to the next paycheck, or they had a medical issue or other problem their budget tighter,” Guerzon explained. “I noticed that these requests kept popping up, which surprised me because Maple Valley is a fairly wealthy community. I’d seen ideas for pantries, I saw the one in Covington and I’ve seen other ones online and I thought that would be a good project for the kids to build.”
Once she shared this idea with the youth group, they were excited to start.
Guerzon said the kids built the pantry all by themselves, supervised of course.
To get the supplies to actually build the pantry, Guerzon said one of the men in their congregation is a contractor and he donated everything they needed. He even taught the kids how to work with the tools.
“A lot of them, it was their first time using power tools, that was interesting,” Guerzon said jokingly. “We made sure every kid that participated was able to hammer a nail in or do some sawing. I mean the kids literally did this themselves with supervision. I wanted it to feel like it was their project.”
This project that the youth group did is different from what other groups usually do, according to Guerzon. She said a lot of times parents will have the kids donate a can to the food bank, but by building the pantry the kids were able to do something with their own hands. They have something to be proud of.
The pantry has been successful so far, Guerzon said. The pantry was completed in spring 2018 and in that short time, community members have really stepped up.
“We have a collection bin at our church and we let church know when there’s been a specific need like when it’s been hot we have bottled water as a specific need for example, (but) mainly the community kind of take it over,” she said.
The goal of the pantry is to feed everybody.
Guerzon explained you don’t have to be homeless to take something.
“We wanted it to be for people who are kind of on the edges. People who may not qualify for the food bank, but may have trouble stretching their budget to buy food before their next paycheck,” she said.
Within a couple hours of stocking the pantry, a lot of items have been taken. Guerzon said she has even found notes from people thanking the church for the food they are supplying.
Community members can donate items by just placing them in the pantry. She said there is no need to check in with someone at the church before doing so.
With so many people taking and giving food, it’s been hard to figure out what is in high need.
“We’re still trying to figure out what population is using the pantry and during the summer we’ve definitely see an up-kick in ready-to-eat foods going, and we’re wondering if that’s possibly because kids that are on free and reduced lunches (during school) are making more use of it,” Guerzon explained.
At the moment, the church is trying to provide a variety of ready-to-eat foods, that way if someone has nowhere to cook their food, or has no way to open a can, they are still able to take something and make use of it.
So far, there has been a lot of positive feedback from the community with the exception of a few negative ones.
“There’s been a couple of people (who) wondered are we feeding the ‘wrong people?’ Or ‘Are people taking advantage?’ But, the way we view it at St. George is this is a gift that’s really given with no judgment and anyone who needs it is welcome to take. There’s no qualifications. It’s kind of anonymous because you don’t sign up for benefits. This way you can kind of go whenever you want and you don’t have to clear it with anybody or qualify for anything, but it’s just there,” Guerzon said.
There are no immediate plans to make another pantry, but Guerzon said it is possible in the future to do so.
The pantry is located at 24219 Witte Rd SE, Maple Valley, WA 98038.