Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry opens new food pantry
Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 18, 2014 at midnight
Updated April 17, 2014 at 11:18 p.m.
Cynthia Shirey clenched a $300 check, a donation from three EZ Loan store locations, and handed it to an old friend.
Shirey and Susan Whitefield of Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry embraced for several moments, laughing and exchanging niceties.
Shirey doesn't get into Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry much anymore, since landing a job with EZ Loan in Victoria.
She goes in maybe once a year these days - when finances are exceptionally tight - and a box of staple food items and toiletries will get her two sons through the week.
But there was a time for about two years when she visited Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry monthly.
And now that she's more financially stable, she wanted to make a donation to Whitefield and the organization that has helped her family through so many tough times.
"My situation has progressively improved so I depend less on VCAM . but I always said when I could give back, I would," said Shirey, EZ Loan store manager.
Shirey is one of thousands of people who frequent the ministry's downtown Victoria location for supplemental assistance, clothing, toiletries and food.
And with the launch of organization's new pantry program, a grocery store shopping experience with rolling buggies and apron-adorned check-out volunteers, Whitefield hopes they can service a greater number of Victoria's poor.
"The Lord says there will always be poor, but we want to give them dignity and respect," said Whitefield. "We tried to make the pantry like a regular shopping experience."
Those who now stop by the new Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry pantry, can pick up a shopping cart and go into the store to pick out 16 items of canned vegetables, beans, meat, pasta, condiments, pastries, fresh bread and fruit.
Clients, as they are called at Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry, shop for what they want rather than receiving pre-packaged boxes of items.
"Our goal here is to feed the poor, and if they're not going to use the items, that doesn't help anyone," Whitefield said. "This allows them to come in and pick out the items they need."
Shirey understands the shame a person may experience when asking for help, and she appreciates the care the ministry's staff and volunteers put into making the process easier for those in need.
"There are many places in town to go if you're in a situation where you need help, but VCAM always makes you feel like a person," Shirey said. "Coming here gave me the confidence I needed to feed my family when my funds were limited."
The pantry program is Whitefield's newest pet project, and she hopes to eventually move the grocery store to the rear of the office building on North Liberty Street to make room for more food and clients.
But to expand, feed and serve more of Victoria's hungry, she said more donations will have to come in.
"There's this idea that the poor should just take what they're given, but we don't see it that way. We want to provide them with healthy food options," she said, mentioning the need for canned beans, meats, soups, vegetables and fruits. "Food and money, those are VCAM's two biggest needs right now."
Whitefield said it's been her pleasure to serve the community the past two years with Victoria Christian Assistance Ministry, and she knows it's a calling and her duty as a follower of Christ.
"You can really feel the Spirit here," she said. "And we want to reach them spiritually as well as reach their basic needs."