A great-grandson’s need and a few “God bumps”— direction from the Lord — are the reasons there is a Martha’s Pantry at St. John the Evangelist Church in Fredericton.
“I had a few God bumps,” said Heather Storey, 85, the founder of Martha’s Pantry.
A year ago, her great-grandson was living in Brandon, Manitoba, and found himself needing some help.
“He wasn’t homeless, but he really didn’t have a lot to eat,” she said. “I told him to go to the churches because they’ll give you something. I went online, found some and gave him a list.”
In helping him, she found herself asking ‘what are you doing about it here?’
“So I went to Paul (Archdeacon Paul Ranson, her rector) and said, ‘I’m thinking of starting a food pantry. What do you think?’”
His answer was a resounding yes! But how does one start a food pantry? With some research, of course.
She visited a few church pantries in the area, and learned what they did. What days were they open? Every week, every month or something in between? How many items could a person take? Did they choose the items or were they chosen for them? Did they give out vouchers or actual food?
“Everyone I talked to, well, it wasn’t really what I was thinking,” said Heather. “I sat and thought about it for a couple of weeks.”
With some divine guidance and her research, she decided on 10 items, allowing the recipient to choose what they wanted; and open the second and fourth Tuesday each month, to coincide with the United Church’s food bank across the street, which is open the first and third Mondays.
“That way people have a resource every week,” she said.
The decisions made, she needed the pantry stocked.
“I announced it one day in church, and I had food,” she said. “We’ve never been without food since.”
She often comes in to find bags, cartons and boxes of food that have been delivered anonymously.
Naming the pantry was easy. Rejecting someone’s suggestion of Heather’s Pantry, she opted for Martha, who, in the Gospels, did a lot of food preparation for Jesus and his disciples.
Once it was up and running, someone suggested toothbrushes and toothpaste, and why not period supplies for girls and women?
“These were little extras I never thought of at first,” she said, adding all that is now part of the pantry inventory.
Another important step in the evolution of the pantry was having coffee and cookies during the pick-up times, making the stop at St. John’s more of a social hour, which has gained popularity. Paul attends and chats as well.
“I wanted that rapport where people felt they could laugh and talk,” said Heather. “I’m glad they feel comfortable here.”
VISITORS & HELPERS
What she’s found is a dozen or so people who are no different from herself, except they’re going through a rough patch.
“They’re just down on their luck,” she said. “We’ve learned so much from them. They’ve been places and done so many things. Through no fault of their own, they can’t feed themselves and have a place to live.”
While she’s never been in a position with nothing to eat, she remembers a lot of lean times until payday when macaroni was pretty much the only option for feeding her five children.
Heather hasn’t been alone in the pantry endeavour. From the beginning, she had help from Jeannie Donald, who had been off work but has since returned. These days, she has the helping hands of Minna Harjupanula and Susan Knorr.
She cannot discount the help from her congregation, either.
“I’m so proud of the parishioners,” she said. “I’ve never run out. I stand up in church and say we’re low on cereal, and the next week, it’s there. They even give cash donations.”
What has Martha’s Pantry given Heather?
“I couldn’t ever begin to tell you,” she said. “I’ve met so many people and they’ve given me so much in return.
“Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I’m not trying to get them into church. I just want them to know we’re here if they need us.”
“There are certain things you know are Spirit-led,” said Paul. “I inherited a congregation here with a wonderful ministry of buying groceries, delivering them and praying with people, rather than just giving vouchers.
“This pantry supplements the grocery ministry plus with the coffee time, it creates community.”
Paul welcomes Martha’s Pantry for another reason.
“It was honestly one of the only encouraging things at the tail end of COVID-19. It really encouraged my spirit.”
1. Heather Storey shows off Martha's Pantry, a simple cupboard at St. John the Evangelist Church that feeds community members twice a month.
2. The Ven. Paul Ranson, rector of St. John the Evangelist Church, welcomes the mission.
3. Overstock is stored on a rolling shelf which is used to resupply the main cupboard.