Fulfilling the need

Austin Simpson
Residents line up at Trinity Church in Morton Oct. 30 to gather food at Tazewell County’s largest food pantry, Community Harvest, which serves nearly 20,000 residents each year.

The mission of Community Harvest Food Pantry is “to be a visible demonstration of the Kingdom of God by acts of mercy that meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people we serve.” According to administrative coordinator Stephanie Bertelson, this mission is accomplished every Saturday morning, between 10 a.m. and noon, by 25 to 30 volunteers.

Community Harvest opened its doors in March 2008. At that point, only three families were being served. Since then, it has grown to become Tazewell County’s largest food pantry, serving nearly 20,000 people in 2009 and, so far, 19,331 this year.

“The volunteers put in easily 100 hours every week,” said Bertelson. Bertelson also stated that, often, the volunteers who show up are people who were previously helped by Community Harvest.

Paula LaFond, co-director of Community Harvest and patient care manager in the PICU at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, said that Community Harvest is unique for largely serving the rural poor.

“The reality is,” she said, “it’s for anybody (who needs it).”

Community Harvest serves every community located in Tazewell County. According to LaFond, although serving the body by providing food is important, the pantry also caters to the emotional and spiritual needs of their guests.

“Our first priority is the soul,” said LaFond.

Community Harvest also works to provide life skills. For example, dietetic interns from OSF have been coming to the food pantry, in order to teach the guests how to use more unusual food.

The food at the pantry comes from various sources. Among these sources are local businesses, such as Pizza Hut and Kroger, other food pantries, and individuals.

Co-director Susan Wagaman said that some of the individuals who donate food are former guests.

“Farmers will sometimes come in when they need food and later donate food to us after their harvests,” she said.

Over the last two years, Community Harvest has outgrown the area available inside Trinity Church, where it is based. Construction began recently on an expansion to Trinity Church. Estimated to cost around $760,000, the new building will include an activity center, a kitchen, classrooms where life skills will be taught by Community Harvest and a warehouse for the pantry.

The church has a special mission for the building.

“Some churches build a building to attract more people. We are building a building to give more away,” said Trinity Church pastor, the Rev. Mike Hutchings.

According to Bertelson, Trinity Church has decided that they will not take out any loans and, if money runs out, construction will pause.

As of the end of this month, the building will be fully enclosed. Bertelson says the church will then be relying on donations, which can be made in person or online at www.communityharvestmorton.com, to continue construction by adding heating and air conditioning.

“We have no doubt that God will provide,” Bertelson stated.