The Montrose Mobile Food Pantry celebrated its five year anniversary Saturday with, among other things, a free food distribution. There was also cake and breakfast burritos.
Event co-chair Rebecca Sullivan remembers how she first got involved a few years ago.
“We got involved. We knew what was happening two years ago and myself, my son and some of our friends from our church went and volunteered and we liked it so much that he and I kept coming back when we could,” she said, speaking of Holy Name of Mary.
“Then last year they said we needed someone to kinda take over. Judy said she’d do it if she had a partner and I said, ‘I’ll be your partner,’” Sullivan recalled.
Judy McKee, the other co-coordinator, reflected with great satisfaction the feelings of satisfaction she gets from the simple act of helping others.
“It’s rewarding for us to be able to direct some care that the community needs and surprisingly that need has really increased over the last couple of years,” McKee said. “It’s just very rewarding to help others.”
Coordination of volunteers, delivery trucks, businesses making donations and clients picking up wholesome foods at the busy South Montrose Community Church all makes the food distribution a successful operation the second Friday of each month, 12 months a year.
“Everyone comes together. We make it happen and it just works. That’s really how it works. There’s are many people behind the scenes and that’s the other key part. They may not be here today but everyone’s doing something,” Sullivan said.
George Leonard was there from the beginning when his late wife, Jo Ann, began the program out of need to feed hungry families.
“My wife started the food pantry with a few people five years ago. It was going to be a lunchbox program. They had difficulty putting the lunchbox program together and what happened then was it ended up being the Montrose Mobile Food Pantry to take care of the needs of 80 people in the Susquehanna County area,” Leonard said.
The program now helps feed up to 250 Susquehanna County families.
“The first food pantry that we had in the old Montrose Methodist Church. We only had 70 clients that day. Weinberg [the program’s sponsor] said we could never get over 125 and actually, when we left the Montrose Methodist Church, we were feeding between 300 and 350 families,” Leonard noted.
Leonard said he, too, feels the same sense of satisfaction from giving.
“Just helping the Montrose area, or the Susquehanna County area. People in need. People are making money; they‘re working but the dollar just doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. We’re helping out people and families. There are individuals that come and also large families that come. We see everything in between. Just a need to help the area,” Leonard said.
Saturday began as usual, with deliveries from the C.E.O. Weinberg Food Bank distribution center arriving between 9 and 10 a.m.
“Because of COVID some things are coming pre-packaged, which makes things a little bit easier as opposed to breaking open cases of different food products and putting them in bags,” Sullivan explained.
“We bag for the number they have and a little extra,” she said.
Cars begin to line up around 11 o’clock and everyone is automatically signed up for the next month.
“That’s all they have to do is keep showing up,” Sullivan said.
Donations come mostly from the Weinberg Food Bank but also come from local churches and groups who donate to allow for the purchase of other items like bread, peanut butter, jelly, pasta and cereal. “To help the kids who have been home so that they have food they can make themselves if their parents are working while they’re home,” Sullivan said.
The volunteerism and generosity of the adults has even rubbed off on some of the younger members of the community.
Lee Sullivan, who is 14 and Rebecca’s son, is going into the ninth grade. “Volunteering and helping people, it makes you happy,” the younger Sullivan explained in answer to a question. “Not the happy you get from having a surprise birthday party, it’s a happy that you can only have from only helping people and supporting people,” he continued.
His friend, Ethan Powers, 15, echoed with a similar sentiment.
“I’m always excited to help out the community when I can. I used to not help out the community as much but when I really learned how much I get and how much joy I feel when I help out other people, I kinda just keep doing this,” Powers said.
Sullivan and McKee recalled braving adverse weather, so cold that their masks stuck to their faces. But they got the job done. Local businesses like Anthony’s Restaurant, a short jog up the hill and down Route 29, lent a helping hand by donating pizzas.
The perseverance of the Montrose community does not surprise Sullivan.
“I am not surprised we’re still here,” she said. “There is an extreme need, especially among the working poor, for people who are working hard and they still can’t meet the needs of their families. So that’s what we’re here for. I’ve lived here for 16 years and I’ve never felt closer to a group of people. Just one person helping their neighbor.”
As listed on their website, the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank services charitable organizations by providing food to alleviate hunger and promote proper nutrition, particularly among children and the elderly.
The Food Bank helps non-profit organization with free food distribution from unmarketable food industry foods with an aim towards reducing hunger and promoting good nutrition and preventing food waste. The Food Bank serves Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties. In the last year, the Weinberg Food Bank distributed over 5 million pounds of food to more than 160 agencies.
To register for monthly Food Bank distribution, call 1-570-533-3980.