Though soup lines like these in the Great Depression are rare today, Americans still look after their neighbors, especially if they are going hungry. There are several places in Liberal where people can get help. Courtesy photo
Bread of Life, Angel Food pantries close; other options remain
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
As the Christmas holiday approaches and the year winds down, most people in Liberal are focused on preparing to celebrate with family and friends. Some, however, have other things on their mind: where they might find the next meal.
Hunger in Liberal is a problem that’s invisible to many. Pat Allsbury, director of the Stepping Stone Shelter, however, sees it clearly.
“There are a lot of families here in Liberal who may not be homeless, but they’re struggling,” she said. “That’s why we serve meals to anyone who needs help. You don’t have to be a resident of the shelter to join us for breakfast, lunch or supper.”
On the average, Stepping Stone serves about 2,000 meals a month, of which 750 are served to walk-in patrons. Allsbury said some are regulars.
“We started a meal ticket program, so if someone comes to eat a meal, they receive a ticket that’s good for 30 meals for the month. It’s up to them how fast or slow they use that up,” she said.
Those who live with a sense of unpredictability about when or where they might eat are said to experience “food insecurity.” It’s a problem that comes and goes, especially for children, Allsbury noted.
“For kids who rely on school for their breakfast and lunch, any kind of vacation can be difficult,” she said. Thus, the upcoming 13-day Christmas break scheduled for students enrolled in USD No. 480, might be more hungry than merry. It doesn’t have to be that way.
“We need more agencies locally, or at least more food cupboards,” she said, “but more than that, we need better knowledge of what’s already available. A lot of people don’t realize there are options here.”
Government commodities are available at two sites in Liberal. Several churches operate food cupboards for their members and the public. Some have begun to serve Wednesday-night dinners for those who attend midweek services. Even so, the options have dwindled in the past year.
Fellowship Baptist Church operated its Bread of Life food pantry for 10 years before it ceased operation in October. At its height, Bread of Life provided boxes from the Kansas Food Bank to more than 200 families a month. Pastor Bill Prater said the decision to step back and reevaluate the venture was not easy.
“I labored over it, prayed over it with my elders,” he said. “It was not an easy decision. We haven’t closed the door permanently, but we did need to step back and reevaluate our purpose and our structure.”
Prater said FBC wanted to pattern its ministry after that of Jesus Christ, who, the Bible relates, performed miracles to feed large crowds of people who had listened to his teaching.
“He supplied what they needed physically, but he was very forthright about the fact that they had a greater need, spiritually,” Prater said. Accordingly, at the Bread of Life food pantry, recipients were asked to visit with church members before picking up their food boxes. “Sometimes, as you would sit at those tables, it was absolutely amazing how people would open up, because somebody really did want to listen,” he said. “It was nothing to see folks crying, and our folks crying along with them.”
For members of FBC, Bread of Life became a natural extension of the church, “a substantial ministry that we invested in,” Prater said. “The money wasn’t the issue. We’ve been setting that aside for 10 years, and we were glad to do it.”
Yet over time, the pantry also proved to be a challenge. Prater said some recipients “learned how to work the system, for lack of a better word,” and declined to visit or pray with volunteers.
“Since that is our main focus, it got to be a little frustrating,” he said, “We always knew we should be careful, and that we didn’t want to be enablers. In the end, God can straighten all that out, but I was concerned that it was starting to wear on people. “
Fellowship Baptist isn’t the only church that had to close its pantry. Church for All Nations also closed its “Angel Food” program, but it has now found another option with Food For All Nations.
For now, most churches in Liberal work with hungry families on a case-by-case basis. Many hand out information sheets, said Allsbury, which directs families to the shelter.
“We have seen an increase in our meal ticket use,” she said. “In August, we gave out 112 tickets. In November, it was 160. For us, that’s pretty dramatic.”
Though the Kansas Food Bank expressed concern that Bread of Life’s absence would create a huge gap in services, local businesses have stepped up to donate food to the shelter.
“Walmart does a great job for us, and Best Market does, too,” Allsbury said. “Dillons began to help recently, and we are so glad. We pick up the donations; it’s quite an undertaking — about 3,000 pounds a week.”
Over the Christmas break, Stepping Stone’s staff expects extra dinner guests.
“We’re open to anyone who needs to eat,” Allsbury said firmly. “No one should be hungry at Christmas.”
Stepping Stone offers three square meals
Meals at the Stepping Stone Shelter, 1015 N. Washington Ave., are served three times daily.
Breakfast begins at 7 a.m.
Lunch is served at noon.
Supper is at 6 p.m.
Visitors don’t have to call ahead or provide special information, director Pat Allsbury said. Meal tickets are issued during the first-time visit.