Ruby’s Pantry helps stretch grocery budgetCold weather froze their forklift in place Thursday, but Ruby’s Pantry volunteers didn’t let it prevent them from distributing thousands of pounds of food from First United Methodist Church.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Cold weather froze their forklift in place Thursday, but Ruby’s Pantry volunteers didn’t let it prevent them from distributing thousands of pounds of food from First United Methodist Church.
“God doesn’t rest; neither should we,” said Paul Schad as he pushed a pallet jack toward a waiting semi-truck.
On the third Thursday of each month, the volunteers gather. They unload surplus food transported from a North Branch, Minn. warehouse to the Duluth church. Ruby’s Pantry supplies food to 32 communities throughout northern Wisconsin and Minnesota — from Siren, Spooner and Luck to Cloquet, Grand Rapids and Moose Lake. Dick Moeding volunteers to drive eight of the loads every month. He does it because it brings joy to others.
“You stick around long enough, you see people go through the end (of the line),” said Moeding, of Pine City, Minn. “You see people with tears on their faces.” The food they get from Ruby’s Pantry, he said, is a life-saving event for some.
Anyone who eats food can use Ruby’s Pantry, a community food outreach program of Home and Away Ministries Inc. There are no income eligibility guidelines to meet; no forms to fill out. The non-denominational program has no geographic boundaries; it does not limit to the number of shares people can get. For a donation of $15, people get one share of food worth an estimated $75 or more. For $30, they get two.
“It’s as simple as you can get,” said Paula Davidson, administrative associate with the church.
Brian Kreager, one of the pantry coordinators at the Duluth site, said the program offers “a hand up, not a hand out.” Ruby’s Pantry helps people like the working class poor, who have financial need but don’t qualify for assistance programs, stretch their food dollars.
“We know a lot of people fall through the cracks,” Kreager said. “My family was one of them.” While he was unemployed, the Duluth man picked up monthly shares to make ends meet. Now, he uses that same $15 a month to buy a “blessing box” to parcel out to neighbors.
When the site opened at First United Methodist in August 2010, supported by a network of area churches, volunteers distributed up to 800 shares per month. After additional pantries opened up in Hermantown and Morgan Park, that number dropped to 350 to 400 shares per month.
Thursday, the sanctuary of the church filled with people of all ages — seniors, college students and parents with young children. Some were picking up food for others; some for themselves. They brought laundry baskets, dollies, wagons and even strollers to pack the food into.
“It’s fantastic,” said Scott Shoberg of Duluth as he waited to be called downstairs to collect his share. “It’s well worth it.” The program, he said, is “a good community effort.”
Members of the Gawboy family drove from Tower to Duluth to pick up eight shares. There are 15 people in the family, according to Tim Gawboy. Shawn Gawboy, 16, spent time volunteering until they collected their shares.
The main fear organizers had when they launched the Ruby’s Pantry site was a possible volunteer shortage, Kreager said, but every month “it’s amazing how many people show up.”
Key Club members Sara Fields and Laura Hauschildt from Duluth East High School handed out banana chips Thursday.
“I know we’re making a difference,” Laura said.
Bonnie Verdugo helped stack loaves of Ciabatta bread with her 12-year-old daughters, Paige and Dani.
“I like being with the people and sharing,” Dani said.
“It’s fun,” Paige said.
The youngest volunteer Thursday was J.D. Van Doren. The 5-year-old unpacked bags of chips with help from his parents, Lisa and Stacy.
“It’s one of the things you just do as a family,” Stacy Van Doren said, and it’s teaching his son the benefits of giving back.
Ruby’s Pantry began in 2003 in Pine City. Last year, Ruby’s Pantry provided more than 5 million pounds of food worth an estimated $13 million to between 210,000 and 240,000 people in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. The program collects surplus food from major corporations and transports it to hungry people.
“The best place to store surplus food is in people’s stomachs,” it states on the organization’s website. “Therefore, we have made an effort locally to provide food to individuals without question.”