Amazing Grace Moves Location, Community
At 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 9, the scissors came out, and Ron Krom, the Executive Director of St. Vincent DePaul Middletown, cut the ribbon for the Grand Opening of Middletown’s newly resituated Amazing Grace Food Pantry.
“It was a celebration of all the people who made [the move] possible,” said Amazing Grace coordinator Kathleen Kelly. “There are a lot of people involved and when this building was purchased, it needed a lot of changing in order to function as a food pantry, so we celebrated all those people and organizations that made it possible.”
The Amazing Grace Food Pantry, a program run under the auspices of the charitable organization of St. Vincent DePaul’s, has relocated from their old Main Street Extension address to 16 Stack St., right past the Portland Bridge. St. Vincent DePaul’s mission is to provide basic provisions to homeless and needy individuals regardless of their affiliations, race, or criminal history. St. Vincent DePaul’s programs have been so successful in recent years that their budget has tripled, which afforded The Amazing Grace Food Pantry this much-needed relocation.
“It’s definitely bigger, and this is the time of year—from Thanksgiving to Christmas—when we get the majority of our donations, so now we are able to store that food,” Kelly explained. “It’s a much brighter, well lit, cheerier place, which is good for volunteers and good for clients. For most people, it can be hard to ask for help and to come into a place because they need food. But this is just very open and light and airy which makes that experience, hopefully, a little more pleasant.”
University students have been building alliances with the pantry for several years. Brighter Dawns, a student club focused on providing aid in Bangladesh, hosted a gingerbread house-making competition on Dec. 4 and donated their completed houses to the pantry.
“When we were coming up with the gingerbread activity, it was just natural that we wanted our cause [to] benefit the Middletown community,” said Bonnie Quach-Wong ’12, a member of Brighter Dawns. “So the idea of donating to Amazing Grace came about simultaneously.”
Long Lane Farm, the student-run farm on campus, has a well-established relationship with the Amazing Grace Food Pantry.
“We’ve been contributing to Amazing Grace for at least three years,” said Charlotte Heyrman ’13, who works at the farm. “This summer, we sent a good amount of food over. [We had] three or four drop-offs in September and October—usually surpluses of our fresh produce. They’re a great organization and it’s a good place to [donate to].”
Many of the Pantry’s recent donations came from local organizations in memory of Nora Miller ’12. Her parents requested that all donations made in her memory be sent to the pantry to honor Miller’s commitment to Amazing Grace.
Student group Food Not Bombs and eating club Star and Crescent also donate their surplus food to Amazing Grace each week.
The Food Pantry now occupies a spacious 6,000 square foot building. It has been organized in such a way that families and individuals in need have the ability to “shop” for their food items as though they were in a grocery store. Those in need of assistance can come once a month and choose three days worth of food. The amount of food donated to each family is determined by family size.
“We don’t do any screening,” Kelly asserted. “People have to show proof of residency for themselves and for everyone they’re shopping for. But we find that some of the people who most need our help don’t have paperwork, so in the pantry’s opinion, any screening basically defeats the purpose.”
The Amazing Grace Food Pantry is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It serves an average of 830 households every month. The pantry receives food from the greater Middletown community through organized food drives and corporate events as well as an annual drive sponsored by the United States Post Office. Twenty-five percent of their supply comes from the St. Vincent DePaul’s Families Feeding Families program, where churches, businesses, and families provide specified food items every month throughout the year.
“We have a database of everyone who comes in to shop,” Kelly explained. “We keep track of everyone who shops and when they shop, because each person can only shop every thirty days. But we also keep track of special cases. Like someone who is diabetic, or if anyone is under two, because they have special accommodations.”