One Westlake church is making a big impact in the lives of many who find themselves in a difficult situation.
"Over the last year, we served 2,600 people," said Dolores Denton, who oversees the food pantry at Westlake United Methodist Church.
The pantry services residents in Westlake, Mossville and Moss Bluff. Second Harvest sets up guidelines on zip code boundaries, which, for WUMC, includes anyone with a Westlake address but cuts off at Hwy 171 and Joe Miller Rd. in Moss Bluff. There is only one other food pantry in Westlake — Good Hope Baptist Church, which is only open one day a month for food pickup — and none in the Moss Bluff area. Being open three days a week, the WUMC pantry offers people a choice as to when they can pick up their monthly allotment or a chance to seek assistance when they find themselves in need.
"It keeps growing. On Wednesday night we had six or seven people come in and half of them were new. People come in and say, 'I just lost my job and I have never had to do this before.' It just keeps growing," said Denton.
If someone comes in for the first time seeking help, they can leave with food immediately. All they need to do is provide the necessary paperwork, which includes proof of address that falls in within WUMC's boundaries, any documents that show they meet Second Harvest's poverty guidelines and a driver's license. The food pantry recertifies participants once a year.
"We have quite a large number of single parent households that we service. We also help elderly or retired residents who don't necessarily qualify for food stamps. But everyone gets some of everything we have. It is meant as a supplement to their food supply," said Denton.
The majority of their stock comes from Second Harvest, to which they pay a yearly membership as well as a monthly delivery fee, but a considerable amount of items are donated by church members, along with occasional donations from other individuals and organizations.
"We operate strictly on donations. Some schools will do food drives and donate it to us. Last year, the West Cal Kiwanis Club put together and gave out their Christmas food baskets and then donated their leftover stock to us. We do get a few things from Glad Tidings' food pantry. Second Harvest works in collaboration with Wal-Mart to receive del i items nearing expiration. Glad Tidings in Lake Charles and Care Help in Sulphur benefit from that program. Glad Tidings will then occasionally give us extra items. Right now, we have some cakes, pies and bread items that we have gotten from them," said Denton.
So the pantry is never sure what items will line their shelves month to month, even from Second Harvest.
Page 2 of 2 - "It just depends on what Second Harvest receives. Some of it is USDA surplus, some are overages from big stores, and some are donations. It is first-come, first- serve when putting your order in. You never know just what you might get. We get rice, dried pastas and beans, canned goods, among other items. You never know what they will have. It depends on the surplus they receive," she said, adding that on occasion Second Harvest will send milk and fresh fruits or vegetables.
Monetary donations are always welcome.
"We can always use money. We purchase our staples, including dry beans, Ramen noodles, Jiffy peanut butter, bread mix, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti noodles and sauce. We like to keep oatmeal but we haven't been able to find a good supply of it yet," said Denton.
In order to maintain their three-day a week schedule, which is Monday and Friday mornings from 9:30 until 11:30 and Wednesdays, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., dependable volunteers are a must.
"We normally have three or four volunteers on the days we are open. Most of the volunteers are from our church, however we do have a couple of ladies from other churches in town," said Denton, who laughing added that her volunteer time has turned out to be an almost full-time, non-paying job. "We have gotten so big, but we are here to serve," she said.
The church is located at the corner of Sulphur Ave. and Johnson St. in Westlake, across from S.P. Arnett Middle School. Their phone number is (337) 433-8424 and their website is www.westlakeunitedmethodist.com