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Volunteers of The Pantry, some having been there since day one. © The Pantry
Volunteers of The Pantry, some having been there since day one. © The Pantry


The Story of the Helpful Samaritan Food Pantry

In the small town of Iuka, Mississippi, in 1998, four pastors and a nun began meeting each week for coffee because they wanted to address the hunger in their town of 3,000. From these coffee meetings, the Helpful Samaritan Food Pantry was established. While starting small, word spread about “The Pantry” and this helping space has grown from about 20 families in 1998 to more than 400 families today.

Delta’s Volunteer Story

Delta Datsis began volunteering for The Pantry in 2000 when a friend asked her to cover a shift. The Pantry immediately became a part of the Datsis’ lives. Her daughter and son both grew up stocking shelves and carrying boxes of food. Then, when her husband retired, he became the go-to man for ordering food and collecting cans at schools and churches. She says, “The pantry is a part of our lives and we are better for it.”

An example of how the cans stays organized. © The Pantry
An example of how cans are organized. © The Pantry

Usually a food bank helps people who are dependent on them to provide meals but, in a small town, a pantry is geared towards getting people back on their feet. The Pantry relies on donations subsidized by the local grocery store and the Memphis food bank. With 12 regular volunteers, Delta counts on food drives from local schools and churches to donate their unneeded pantry goods.

Are Food Drives Helpful?

Delta shares her story:

Many articles talk about how food drives are a waste of effort. They claim it would be better to give a dollar than to spend a dollar on a can because food pantries get more “bang for their buck.”

For a while, our resource for low cost food had been the Memphis Food Bank. At the food bank, we paid a low shipping and handling fee and were able to order 4,000 or more pounds of food. Now, many limits have been placed on food orders and we have to buy locally, which can cost us 10x more. So our school can drives are vital to get us through lean months.

The winning class from the food drive! © The Pantry
The winning class from the food drive! © The Pantry

Truth be told, everyone wants to give canned goods at Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is important, but April – September can be rough. One school whose involvement I am very proud of is Tishomingo Elementary/Middle School. This K-8th grade school has about 300 kids but they are very involved in their community. One teacher, Mrs. Lisa Harden, and her students have taken on the role of organizing a food drive, teaching the students what it means to contribute to their community.

The Principals of Tishomingo Elementary/Middle School wearing tutus. © The Pantry
The Principals of Tishomingo Elementary/Middle School wearing tutus. © The Pantry

To increase the amount of cans collected by each class, the school administration added a few incentives. The class with the highest number of donated cans would win a pizza or ice cream party. If the entire school collected more than 1,000 cans, the principal and vice principal promised to dress up in tutus. Here is a photo of the principals in their tutus also wearing their rival college team’s shirts!

Giving Back

Years ago, a young couple came into the pantry for the first time. Many of our first-time visitors are shy and hesitant to ask for help but the young man was very sick. He worked in one of our local factories and had been out of the office for a week because he was so ill. No work, no pay. His wife worked part-time at a local fast food restaurant with minimum wage, which in our area is $7.25. While they were low on food but that wasn’t the reason they were there. The man’s sister had been arrested for drug usage and her children were on the verge of going into foster care. This couple didn’t want anything for themselves, they just wanted something for the children until he could get back to work.

Boxes organized by family size. © The Pantry
Boxes organized by family size. © The Pantry

Fast forward four years and the couple, who had since adopted the children, returned to The Pantry with cases and cases of soup, canned fruits and vegetables. They said that the respect The Pantry showed the family during their time of need set them on a successful path. The man regained his health to return to work and worked hard enough to ultimately become a supervisor of the factory. His wife went back to school, taking night classes, and earned her nursing degree. That one visit changed their life. To that point, their life had always been a struggle but the kindness shown was the clouds opening.


What Can You Do?

As Delta has shown, contribute canned goods! This list shows the best non-perishable foods to donate. If you have more time, start a drive on your own. Create the Good has an excellent outline for organizing a food drive. Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy, all you need is donated goods and an organization who will receive them.


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