By LINDA M. LINONIS
Recipients of food boxes from St. Vincent de Paul Society of Mahoning County food pantry show their appreciation in various ways — a smile, tears in the eyes, a handshake, a nod or a verbal “thank you” or “bless you.”
Ed Lorenz, vice president of operations, and volunteers at the food pantry at 317 Via Mount Carmel have seen thanks expressed in many ways.
Brian Antal, president of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Mahoning County, said that’s why Valley support of two fundraisers, a steak fry next Saturday and Walk for the Poor on Sept. 28, means so much. Proceeds supplement other donations to the food pantry and dining hall at 208 W. Front St.
Antal and Lorenz said the donors who give cash and food contributions keep the pantry and dining hall going.
The two operations are under the umbrella of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Antal and Lorenz emphasized that the food pantry and dining hall may be run by the Catholic organization, but continued interfaith cooperation and contributions in manpower and items make it all possible. “It takes all hands to do this,” Lorenz said. “There’s a lot of prayer in it.”
The budget, based on a fiscal year beginning in October, is $200,000 for the food pantry and dining hall. The dining hall takes about $150,000 and the food pantry, $50,000 or more. Antal said the two fund-raisers account for about 10 percent of the budget.
The dining hall served 103,000 meals in 2012, and numbers will be slightly higher in 2013. Antal said the food pantry is on pace in 2013 to distribute some 3,200 boxes of food to feed 13,000 people with children accounting for half that number. Those numbers reflect a slight increase from the previous year.
The society also recently distributed 200 backpacks filled with school supplies, including crayons, colored and regular pencils, glue, notebooks, folders, scissors and paper.
About 25 volunteers keep the pantry running smoothly; Lorenz previously was among them. He is one of four paid staff members. Volunteers do clerical work, pack food boxes, drive and do whatever else is needed. The food pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and activity is ongoing.
Volunteers pack boxes for the 75 to 80 families who come weekly. Boxes contain pancake mix, canned fruit and vegetables, ground meat, crackers, dry cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta, peanut butter, pork and beans, soup, syrup, spaghetti sauce and instant mashed potatoes. Families go through a screening process so that the truly needy are served.
Sometimes donations of items such as fresh corn, tomatoes and peaches are available to recipients. Antal and Lorenz expressed gratitude to the many Valley businesses and farms that contribute regularly. “They know how much it is appreciated ... and needed,” Lorenz said.
Antal added that donors give from small to large cash donations to the projects.
Though most of the volunteers are retired, Antal fits in his 25 volunteer hours as society president with his job, which affords him flexibility. “I’ve been blessed my whole life. This is my chance to do something ... now,” he said. “The need of the people” is what motivates him.
He credited his wife, Kari, and daughter, Alexis, 7, with giving him support and encouragement. Son Tyler, 3, will join in when he’s older.
Lorenz said people who come to the food pantry are the “working poor.” “What they make just isn’t enough,” he said, adding any unexpected expense adds to the problem.
Students on a tight budget and the homeless frequent the dining hall.
Antal said various church and community groups cook and serve lunch from 10:30 a.m. to noon week-days. St. Michael Church in Canfield serves breakfast from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturdays.
Antal noted last year’s capital campaign provided funds to repair deteriorating masonry at the dining hall and a $5,000, five-shelf convection oven was purchased.