By Kate Kovarik
With the hope of helping people in her community, Judie Thomas knew from the get-go that she wanted to volunteer at the Village Presbyterian Food Pantry, located in the church’s Tillotson Building facility at 99th Street and Mission. Her involvement began as a volunteer shift on a Tuesday morning, but it has since become much more.
Thomas has been volunteering at the Village Food Pantry every week for the past 15 years. Her time at the pantry and with her fellow volunteers have come to play a large role in her life.
“The camaraderie of the group here keeps me coming back,” Thomas said as she greeted volunteers who were arriving for their morning shifts. “We’re family here.”
Thomas is one of 300 volunteers who help at the pantry each month. Volunteers hold different roles within the pantry including sorting donations, preparing the pantry for clients, assisting clients with appointments, and many other duties, all of which contribute to the operation of the pantry.
Susan Webb, director of the operation, said the pantry would not exist without dedicated volunteers like Thomas.
“There’s a number of people who started when we first opened back in 1998,” Webb said, “And they’ve been coming ever since.”
The Village Food Pantry aids 500 families who are living near the federal poverty line in Johnson County each month. The pantry provides them with groceries, clothing, personal care items, and household items.
The pantry serves families in need year-round and especially during the holiday season, a time which Webb said “the number of people calling in need of food assistance increases.”
During the recent Thanksgiving holiday, the pantry provided 500 families with Thanksgiving baskets that included a turkey and sides such as cranberries, green beans, and pumpkin pie mix. According to Webb, the pantry provided for these families during the Thanksgiving holiday “in addition to all [their] regular clients.”
It is through the donations of community members and local retailer partners that the pantry is able to provide for its clients each day.
“Everything we give away is from a donation, whether it’s an actual food donation or a financial donation.” Webb said. “It all is freely donated by people in the community and we depend entirely upon that.”
Thomas said one of her favorite things about volunteering is welcoming clients to the pantry and being able to provide them with so many of the things they may be in need of.
“Seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they realize what…is available to them and that there is no cost,” Thomas said. “That’s what keeps you going.”
Community members can drop off donations of food, clothing, personal care items, and small household items to the Village Presbyterian Church Food Pantry Monday through Saturday during operating hours.