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Around Our Town: Services

Restoration Food Pantry: Helping Casper's Working Poor

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08/01/2011 - by Gale Irwin

Restoration Church recently moved from its Poplar Street location into the old Highland Park Church building at 411 South Walsh. The move prompted a new ministry: the Restoration Food Pantry, an outreach to help Casper's working poor, according to Gary Hazen, Church Operations Director.

The food pantry differs from others in several ways, Hazen said, ways which are designed to better help working people in need.

First, the pantry is open two evenings a week -- Tuesdays and Fridays, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Secondly, people can return every week if they need to. Thirdly, no "proof" of income is required; those using the pantry simply fill out one piece of paper explaining their need. Lastly, people choose the items they want.

"We let them choose what they want, not hand them a box and say, 'this is what you get,'" he explained. "We feel there's less waste that way."

More than 100 people a week are served at the pantry, which has only been open since June. People come through word of mouth, including church referrals.

"People are in need, and if they are in need, we help them," Hazen said.

"It's a calling," he said of his work.

Hazen ran a food pantry at another church for several years, and when Restoration moved to its new location, "Restoration saw the need (in the community)," he said.

"We're targeting the working poor, people who are working but have a hard time making ends meet," Hazen continued. "Maybe something's happened, like an illness. It's takes a lot for someone to admit they need help."

Four or five people each week volunteer to help at the pantry. They may be different volunteers each week or even each day the pantry is open.

"Sometimes people just come by and say, 'I'm here to help, what can I do?'" Hazen said.

One volunteer will teach people how to prepare foods with which they may be unfamiliar, such as squash, he added.

"She comes and helps often," he said.

Items at the pantry generally include cereal and other boxed food, but also milk, butter, vegetables, bread and meat. Oftentimes, the pantry will also have personal items, like toothpaste, soap, and feminine products.

"Those are the kinds of things that are forgotten but that are needed," Hazen said.

The Restoration Food Pantry is affiliated with the Food Bank of the Rockies. Hazen picks up two or more truckloads of food each week, but that food has to be purchased.

One hundred dollars buys nearly two truckloads of food, he said. However, not everything in the pantry needs to be purchased. For example, some of the local grocery stores donate items such as bread and produce.

Hazen and the church welcome monetary donations for the pantry, and he hopes more churches not only refer people in need, but also help to stock the pantry and consider serving as sponsors.

"Money is tight," he said, but "I get a lot for the amount of money I pay."

"It's all about serving," Hazen added. "What people don't see is the look on people's faces it's like Christmas, they are so thankful and humbled."

For more information on the food pantry, including ways to help, call Restoration Church at 235-9100.

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