The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

April 1, 2012

Feeding multitudes

HINTON — Loaves and Fishes, a thrift shop and food pantry on Temple Street in Hinton, lives up to its name.

From donations and a few grants, the aim is to feed the multitudes — anyone from any county who comes there needing support.

Loaves and Fishes is a Catholic Charities of West Virginia outreach office and has been active in the southern region for more than 30 years, explained program coordinator Earl Dodd.

And there are a few things that make this food pantry unique.

First of all, as long as individuals meet the income guidelines and have proof of address, they can get assistance, no matter what county they are from.

It primarily serves individuals from Summers, Mercer, Monroe and Greenbrier counties.

Bridget Dignan, program consultant, said the pantry is open every Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they serve around 140 people a month.

Loaves and Fishes also participates in a Catholic Charities program called Wellness Works, which provides a grant to stock the pantry with healthier food choices for individuals with health conditions.

“Those who have health conditions that are affected by diet, like high blood pressure or diabetes, will be offered appropriate alternatives, like whole wheat spaghetti and brown rice,” explained Dignan.

The pantry has also started two local gardens to grow fresh food for the pantry, she said.

“Landowners in town have allowed us to start gardens on their properties. We have already planted peas, beets and carrots so far this year and we are looking forward to getting the first harvest,” Dignan said.

The pantry is stocked by individual food donations, food donations from the Mountaineer Food Bank, funds from the United Way, support from the Catholic Charities of West Virginia, and from the proceeds from the Loaves and Fishes Thrift Store.

Dodd explained the main focus of the thrift store is to help the community any way it can.

Dignan said the store offers affordable clothing and household items for the community, from sheets and towels to furniture.

After operating costs, like utilities, all proceeds go back into the food pantry, Dodd said.

The thrift store also acts as a hub for those who may need these household items but cannot afford to purchase them.

Dodd explained that Department of Health and Human Resources often refers individuals to the thrift store for free clothing.

The furniture that collects downstairs in the shop is sometimes given away to victims of flood or fire, he added.

“If we have it and someone needs it, they can have it,” said Dodd. “We try to do as much as we can and we cover a lot of different bases.

“There are not a whole lot of opportunities job-wise here in Summers County and there is a lot of poverty. We try to help everybody we can,” he added.

Dignan pointed out that Summers County has a higher elderly population and most of the people who are served be Loaves and Fishes are on a fixed income because they are retired or on disability.

Loaves and Fishes is run by a large and reliable pool of volunteers. The volunteers are comprised of dependable locals and groups of youth from Bethlehem Farm, an intentional Catholic community comprised of volunteers from all over the nation.

“It is nice to meet local volunteers, some of who are clients. They volunteer because they are looking for Hinton to be a thriving area and want to support us in that way. And getting the volunteers here from all over the country is a great experience. They have the opportunity to interact with locals in the food pantry and be involved with producing fresh food in the gardens,” noted Dignan.

Dodd explained that the thrift store is also intrinsically connected to the community through shared programs.

Most books donated to the thrift store, because they are not readily sold, are donated to the Summers County Library for them to shelve or sell. Children’s books are gathered and donated to a program that provides free books to children, he said.

Dodd also collects all flower vases and baskets and sends them to the flower shop, and they provide a small donation to the food pantry in return.

“There are many programs that are run by other people that Loaves an Fishes touches base with. If we can’t use something we find a way to send it right back into the community,” he explained.

Loaves and Fishes outreach office also provides utility assistance and food vouchers for holiday meals.

They also work to provide a toy give-away during Christmas.

Last Christmas was extremely successful because The Greenbrier donated two U-Haul trucks filled with toys and clothes, said Dodd.

Typically Loaves and Fishes is stretched thin to serve 30 families at Christmas, but this year they had over 6,000 articles of clothing and 12,000 toys donated by The Greenbrier.

And if that isn’t enough programs to juggle, Loaves and Fishes has a summer camp at Camp Summers where children from low income families can enjoy the outdoors and all the traditional activities of a typical camp, said Dignan.

Children who qualify for a free lunch at school may attend the camp free.

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