Making it easy to digest Food pantry eases discomfort of needy

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By Barbara Canale
SUN contributing writer

On June 16, a handful of parishioners and clergy from Holy Cross digestChurch, Jamesville Community Church, The First Baptist Church in Jamesville, DeWitt Community Church, Pebble Hill Presbyterian and St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church will congregate at Holy Cross Church to commemorate the third year supporting the Jamesville Ecumenical Food Pantry (JEFP).

At this meeting, officers will be elected to serve on the board for the next two years in the capacity of president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. For the last three years, volunteer board members met on a monthly basis working to improve operations of the food pantry and to incorporate the not-for-profit title.

Nora Ruthig of Manlius is the JEFP coordinator. While Ruthig loved spending time with her family, she wanted her days to be more meaningful. At the age of 61, she started a new chapter of her life, working part-time at the pantry distributing food to people in need. “It’s something I’ve always thought I would like to do after retirement when I had more time,” she said.

Ruthig believes “All of the hard work is worth it when the customers walk away with a basket of good, wholesome food that will sustain them for a while during their time of need. I always try to imagine myself in their place, knowing how difficult it must be to ask for help. I strive to alleviate people’s apprehension about taking the food.”

Ruthig is down-to-earth and easy to talk to. It’s easy to see why people like her so much. She keeps the place neat and clean and it’s extremely well-organized. She wants the pantry to reflect a friendly atmosphere. One way she does that is by making the exterior welcoming.

“The Grass Root Gardeners created flower beds in the front of the building. They planted perennials which should start blooming next month, if we are blessed with good weather,” she said with a hopeful smile. “Volunteers made the entrance more attractive with plant boxes brimming with beautiful flowers.”

Once inside, customers are received in a freshly painted waiting room that resembles a living room. “I want clients to feel special, that we did all of this just for them.”

Her dedication to feeding the hungry goes beyond the sleepy hamlet of Jamesville. She attends workshops sponsored by the Food Bank of Central New York whenever they are offered.  She learns organizational tips, how to stay apprised of new regulations, and receives updates on the latest resources available. That way she provides more than cans of tuna and boxes of macaroni and cheese.

She also offers food for thought. She directs people in need of food stamps, vouchers to be used at the farmers markets, and school supplies for children. Ruthig also attends meetings with coordinators from other food pantries to share ideas and information.  Representatives such as Peace, Inc., Catholic Charities, Interreligious Food Consortium, and the Food Bank attend.

“They have helped me appreciate and understand the clients. Many people are embarrassed about their situation and I try to assist them without making them feel worse than they already do. After working at the food pantry for three years, I have developed a good rapport with the clientele and established a mutual trust that’s felt by us both,” Ruthig said.

The Jamesville Ecumenical Food Pantry was founded in 1984 under the name of the St. Mary’s Outreach Program. It was located in the basement of the church rectory. When St. Mary’s Church merged with Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, the pantry moved to 4653 North Street in Jamesville where it serves more people. The name was changed to reflect the interdenominational community of people who support it. The small brown building is across the street from the Glen Loch Restaurant. Tim Barr, owner of both properties, made the building available.
Food or monetary donations can be brought to any of the churches listed or by calling (315) 469-5093. Ruthig has a handful of regular volunteers, but will train anyone interested in this worthwhile undertaking.
She can be reached at:
pantry_coordinator@jefp.org. The pantry is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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