MORGANTOWN—Pantry Plus More’s commitment has always been to preventing any student in Monongalia County from going unfed.
“That’s our main mission, is getting food to children [and] end food insecurity in Mon County for children,” said Hedi Specht, Pantry Plus More board member.
To achieve this goal, the pantry has worked to establish food pantries within schools throughout the county, giving students easy access to necessities. Twelve schools have established pantries through the organization so far.
When schools began shifting online about a year ago due to COVID-19, the pantry’s mission became even more crucial. Access to in-school pantries became restricted, and the organization knew they had to find an alternative.
“I mean, to be honest, we didn’t know what to do,” said Tom Bloom, executive director. “We knew we had to do something.”
That’s when the organization began shifting to drive-thru pick-up events every Saturday, box delivery right to families’ doorsteps, and coordinating with school’s outreach coordinators to identify high risk and high need families lacking transportation.
Previously, about 50 families would come to pick-up products on Saturdays, but that number has grown to more than 220 families over the past year.
“Most people in grant writing would say, ‘look [at] what we’re doing, this is great,” Bloom said. “We’ll tell you, this is the worst thing. We want to go the other way. Our goal is to put ourselves out of business.”
Tuesdays is the main delivery day for the organization. Twenty delivery routes are shared between volunteers and outreach coordinators, with five to nine families located on each route.
Boxes with about a weeks-worth of food for a family of four are delivered, including non-perishables, bread, milk, fresh produce, meat, desserts and more.
Other necessities, such as personal hygiene products, have also proven to be just as important when providing boxes to families.
One moment Bloom described was a time he saw a fifth grader from Eastwood Elementary School receive a bag of personal hygiene items. The boy started removing items from the bag, and when asked why he was doing that, he explained he wanted to make sure other people had enough of the products, too. Bloom then explained everything there was for him.
“He looked, and then he picked up the toothbrush,” Bloom said. “He was a fifth grader, and said, ‘this will be the first toothbrush I’ve ever had that I didn’t have to share with my sister’”.
Providing the basics is not where the organization’s efforts stop. When someone had a birthday, their box likely contained a birthday cake. When the winter holidays approached, Santa Claus made an appearance at the pick-up site.
“There is this human element of how do we make people feel better?” said Roark Sizemore, Pantry Plus More president. “It’s sometimes those small things.”
As schools begin to reopen, the organization still has its sights set on getting food pantry locations into all 18 schools in the area.
“It is our hope that once things settle down a little bit, we can start expanding again,” Sizemore said. “We were sort of in the process of getting all the way up to 18.”
The pantry consists entirely of volunteers, making commitment and help from the community essential. Because the pantry is one of the only in the area to not shut its doors at any point during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bloom said the organization’s volunteer base and donations have grown exponentially.
Sheri Banning, a volunteer with the pantry, said she and a group of two other volunteers have been making Saturday deliveries to the Ridgedale area since the beginning of June.
Volunteering with Pantry Plus More has been a way for Banning and others to give back to the community. She said the experience has been rewarding, and feels everyone who can should find ways to be involved in service within the community.
“It just makes you feel good,” Banning said. “It’s nice to be able to give back to the community in any way that you can.”
Families with children in need of assistance or those interested in volunteering can reach out to the pantry through Facebook at www.facebook.com/PantryPlusMore/ or visit www.pantryplusmore.org. Volunteer signups can be done directly online through the website.