Amy Cunningham
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Many think of hunger as a big city issue, but members of one local church are working hard to see that no person in our community will go hungry, not just at the holiday season, but year round.
The Gardner Church of the Nazarene already operates its own food pantry. In addition, the church has offered the Angel Food Ministries program for several years. Angel Food Ministries is a national program where consumers can pre-order bags of food through the church, each bag is valued at $70 but participants pay only $30.
This October they added to their services by becoming a distribution point for Harvesters, a regional food bank with offices in Kansas City, Mo. and Topeka. The Harvesters organization collects and distributes food and household products through a network of nonprofit agencies.
“Harvesters was working in the area on the BackSnack program at one of the elementary schools in town,” church pastor Dan Newberg, explained. “They were looking for a distribution point and we talked about the Mobile Food Program.  They asked us if we would be interested in being a distribution point for them.”
On the first Monday of each month the Nazarene Church receives a delivery of 14 pallets of fresh foods from Harvesters to distribute to the community.  The truck arrived Mon., Oct. 4 for the first time.
“There were only 10 pallets on that first delivery – they brought apples, cucumbers, green peppers, some kind of a boxed meal, romaine lettuce, green grapes, 15 pound bags of potatoes, a bunch of bakery products,” said Newberg.  “We were able to distribute that to people, hopefully people in need, but those who come need not qualify, the program is open to all people who need it.”
The congregation started publicizing the October drop by passing out flyers at homes across Gardner. That first week Newberg said 145 families representing 600 people took advantage of the Harvesters program.
“That is pretty significant,” Newberg said.  “I was kind of amazed at how many people came. We got rid of all the food within an hour and a half.  And I would suspect if we serve 145 families on the first time we do it, I would guess that there are at least that many more out there who could benefit from it.”
Newberg said that the cooperation of volunteers helped the first distribution operate efficiently.  The team had the pallets lined up through the church’s parking lot and sent two lines of cars, one down each side of the pallets, through to pick up their groceries.  Cars entered the Nazarene Church lot from 167th and traveled through the lot, exiting at Moonlight Road.
Initially the minister was worried about traffic and construction hampering the efforts for a smooth delivery of goods. He said that, the Moonlight entrance to the church was blocked off for work on Oct. 4, but once the construction superintendent heard about the distribution of food to those in need he sent a worker to clear the area and barricades, to help the flow of traffic through the church’s parking lot.
Newberg said that church members and volunteers are glad to be able to help members of the community.
“Helping people isn’t new to us, but on this scale it is.  Our biggest hope and prayer is that people are aware of us and they’ll use it,” Newberg explained.  “We try to make it as user-friendly and as non-threatening as possible.  It isn’t an end-all, but we hope that it makes a difference in a lot of lives.”