Ballinger Food Pantry offers more than food

Bill Hancock
Racks of clothes for sale at the Ballinger Ministrial Alliance Food Pantry.

The Ballinger Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry helps over 120 families every month. The pantry helps with food, clothing, housewares and the paying of utility bills. The pantry has an extensive clothing section for sale to the public. Many think that you need to be a low-income family to shop there but the truth is, anyone can shop there. And the variety of items are in good shape and not simply worn out and discarded articles of clothing.

  The pantry also sells housewares, toys and other items at steeply discounted prices.

  Most items are in the $1 to $2 range and books are given out free of charge in most cases. A pair of boots will run you $2 while a skirt or pants will cost $1. Children’s clothes are 5 for a $1.

  The pantry is supported by churches located in Ballinger; 7th Street Baptist Church, 9th street Church of Christ, St. Mary Star of the Sea, First Baptist Church and the First United Methodist church.

  Volunteers from each church work each day of the workweek; 7th Street Baptist on Monday; 9th street Church of Christ; Tuesday; St. Mary Star of the Sea on Wednesday, First Baptist Church on Thursday and the First United Methodist Church on Friday.

  A recent visit on Monday morning found the pantry staff busy with customers in the front, taking in donation of clothing and other items in the back and the painting of some doors. All of this being done by people who volunteer their time to help others.

  Max Pratt, minister at the 9th Street Church of Christ heads up the Ballinger Area Ministerial Alliance (BMA) who operates the pantry, tells how it all began, “I cannot remember the year when the BMA meeting led to the discussion of a combined community pantry. The ministers felt it would advantageous for all the church groups and would serve the community in a better way. In the beginning the plan was to find a building to have a community food pantry. Hugh Wade offered the use of the current building that St. Mary's owned but was not using. Freezers were donated. Food was collected. The Abilene Food Bank asked for us to be a commodity distribution place. Free food was donated to the pantry for many years until that government program was dropped.  The pantry became an agent of the food bank and the purchase of the majority of the food came from the Abilene Food Bank. Very generous donations, especially during the thanksgiving and Christmas seasons have always been made from the community, school organizations, churches, sororities, clubs and individuals. 

  The food pantry was set up and in a very short time as the clothing and housewares began to be collected and offered for donations to the pantry. The churches participating in the BMA asked for volunteers from church membership to keep the pantry open. We are indebted to so many community-minded folks for volunteering at the pantry for all these many years. Monday through Friday throughout the year the pantry is open for shoppers to come and select donated items. Suggested donation values are placed on these items. The funds collected from all these generous donations from the community is used to purchase the food from the food bank and to help assist families with emergency needs. Because much of the food purchased from the food bank is USDA product, the pantry is required to verify our client's needs. The guidelines of food distribution made by the BMA follows these requirements from the food bank. The monthly distribution of food helps many families supplement their food needs.  

  The pantry now has a representative from Central Texas Opportunities from Coleman one day a week to help folks sign up for assistance. BMA now has a representative each Monday at the pantry to take requests for assistance. 

  The resources that come into the pantry from donated items and the shoppers who come in and donate funds for them make it possible to help so many families with the food boxes. It would not be possible to keep this running without the many volunteers who do so much work. Lucy Gonzalez has been a long time volunteer at the pantry and has worked with the local authorities to provide a place for individuals to give back to the community through hours spent at the pantry. 

   Through the years, and I have been here for forty-three years, the BMA has been helping individuals and families. The pantry has been one of the best things to reach out and give a helping hand to those in need in our community. We are able to do more than ever before because of the community pantry. 

   I have seen and still see the caring hearts of so many of our neighbors who go the extra mile to help people in need. “Thanks” just isn't adequate. 

   We do all this in honor of and to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows and that is what matters.”

  The volunteers at the pantry work hard to see that everything is taken care of, “We have to make the most of what we have,” says Peggy Freeman. On this Monday, Freeman and Penny Grissom are hard at work taking in donations and painting.

  The pantry is a flurry of activity as shoppers bring up items and in most cases, bargain a price with the customers. Grissom adds, “We’re all volunteers, 9 a.m. – Noon every day except Tuedays when we’re open 10 a.m. to Noon.” The hardest thing to do at the pantry is to get the volunteers to talk about themselves and the work that they do. They prefer to speak respectfully about the people they help and the pantry, “When someone signs up, they can come in once a month and get food for their family. Anyone in an emergency situation in need of food can come in. We’re not going to turn anyone away.”

  The building that houses the food pantry is part of the history of this area. The building was a barracks for Bruce Field for many years. Airmen trained at Bruce Field to go fight against the Axis powers during World War II. It hosted a myriad of aircraft for training, including the BT-13 Valiant. A tornado struck the field in 1946 and took the roof off of the old control tower and destroying one hangar. The barracks building, fortunately, was spared from nature’s wrath.

  Freeman says that while the majority of the volunteers come from the churches, anyone in the community can volunteer, “They can just show up and volunteer.” Purchase of clothes and other items helps fund the pantry, “Not only do we accept donations, but the sales of the clothing is what the BMA uses to buy food with, pay utility bills, etc. We want the community to come shopping and buy clothes and other items because it helps the pantry out. We urge people to stop in and shop her,” Grissom says.

  Many of the items in the pantry come from estate sales in the area. In most cases, items left over from the estate sales are donated to the pantry.  But, there are certain items that the pantry have trouble with, “We don’t want big furniture because we don’t have a place to put it and we have to pay to have it hauled off. And we can’t accept mattresses because we can not resell them.”

  The pantry operated efficiently with monthly reports submitted as well as all donations coming in or going out being monitored.

  On the Monday of my visit the pantry closed at noon as I’m talking to Freeman and Grissom. A woman comes in needing help with a utility bill. Another lady who volunteers at the pantry was on her way out stopped and talked to the woman. They go to the office area and she gets the lady’s information and pays her utility bill to prevent it from being disconnected.

  Freeman points out, “Without the volunteers, none of this would be possible.”

  Most of the volunteers are older adults and could use some younger volunteers to help out. The volunteers donate great deal of their time and perform a significant amount of work to ensure people in need in Ballinger have food and clothing. It would be impossible to put a numerical value on the good that the pantry and the volunteers do.

To obtain food and other help from the pantry, first timers need a picture identification and proof of residence, such as a utility bill. You can donate items by just showing up and dropping them off, there is no need for an appointment. The food pantry is located at 608 Strong Avenue, on the corner of Strong/S. 6th.