Hicksville United Methodist Church sits quietly along Old Country Road, but for the past 11 years, each Friday morning between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. it is a bustling hub of love and support for those who come to the food pantry in search of a meal.
Walk down the steps to the church’s lower level and one will be greeted by the volunteers who staff the food pantry. They’ll take your name, offer you nothing but smiles, and let you fill up enough bags until you’re stocked with three days’ worth of food. Shelves with loaves of bread and bottled water line one room. Another room houses shelves of canned soup, tuna and chicken. Boxes of pasta, granola bars, a designated children’s food area and a basket of mini shampoos and conditioners are also among the array of available items. A special shelf exists for the homeless, providing canned products that don’t require a can opener.
The church’s food pantry has more to give than just food, however. A large room is filled with baskets of clothes neatly folded, clothes hanging on racks and shoes lined up waiting to comfort the soles of those in need. A table in the back is designated for housewares, books and children’s toys.
“We’re very fortunate and very blessed that we get a lot of donations from groups in the community,” said Annette Eichenauer, the co-chair of the church’s food pantry.
Donations to the church’s pantry come from a plethora of different sources. The church’s own community, its attached nursery school and other local churches are benefactors. Clubs, organizations and local schools will collect and donate anything they can. Frequently, the pantry will simply receive monetary or material donations out of the generosity from individuals in the area. Anyone can donate and donations are always welcome.
When someone comes to the pantry for the first time, they will always be given food, but to keep returning each week, there is an interview to assess eligibility.
“You fill out a form, then you’re interviewed,” explained Eichenauer. “What I look for is where you live, you have to show me some sort of an ID card, then I look to see if you’re working, and if you are, how much money you earn. We go by the poverty level [to determine eligibility]. Then I continue to look to see how many are in your family. If you do have children, I need to see birth certificates to prove that you’re responsible for those children.”
Applicants are then given a month to bring the appropriate information back to the pantry. Should they not meet the requirements to utilize the pantry, they will be redirected to other pantries in the area.
“If somebody is in need and they come, we will always serve them the first time, and then we would redirect them to a pantry that is close. We’re never going to turn them away,” said Marjorie Nunes, the church’s pastor.
For those that they are able to help, the pantry operates under “client’s choice.” Rather than simply being handed a bag of food, clients are able to browse the pantry just as they would do in a supermarket and are free to take what they want. The most popular items that clients tend to take are cereal, oil, tuna fish, canned chicken, rice, beans, milk, butter, jelly and pasta.
With nearly 20 families coming to “shop” each Friday, the volunteers at the pantry have come to know their clients like family. Eichenauer explained that while it is rewarding to come to know those she is able to help, it is most rewarding when clients don’t need to come back anymore, because it means they were able to get back on their feet and sustain their family on their own.
“It should be a good thing if the numbers go down. One should hope that they’re doing better, that they’ve found a job. That should be our desire,” said Nunes, who emphasized the importance of accepting and respecting clients regardless of their circumstance. “Most people who struggle don’t want to come to a food pantry. They’re ashamed that they cannot feed their family. We will always treat them as human beings, with respect, as if they were us, as if it could have been my child. I thank God for the volunteers who are sensitive to all of these folks and treat them well.”
While commercials and media outlets may show us hunger overseas, the church’s food pantry is a gentle reminder that there is hunger and poverty in our own backyard, and it is our duty as a community to help those in need.
“There are times in this pantry where I just have to sit and thank God for everything that we have and for the people who have helped us,” Eichenauer said. “It is a true blessing to know that you can help someone who has nothing.”
To make a donation, checks written out to Hicksville United Methodist Church with a memo line of food pantry will be accepted, or food and clothing donations may always be dropped off. To learn about volunteering, call 516-931-2626.