Bean updates on state of Culver food pantry

Culver food pantry director Leroy Bean stopped by Culver's REAL Meals last week to update diners there on the pantry's efforts.
The pantry, located in the lower level of Grace United Church of Christ on Plymouth Street in Culver, is an effort of the Culver Council of Churches, and is open every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon. Bean said he gathers food from the food bank in South Bend, as well as purchasing it locally at Park N' Shop, Kroger, and Aldi, where some food is sold at cost.

So far this year, the pantry has collected almost 12,000 pounds of food, he noted, much of which has been given away. He tries to weigh all food brought in, to keep a record of it.

To date this year, 632 pounds of those 12,000 were donated, while the rest were provided by the USDA or purchased using donated funds, said Bean.

Around 170 people have utilized the food pantry so far this year; Bean said the pantry doesn't count multiple visits as new numbers. Numbers from week to week vary. Last week saw 11 clients, while Bean says there may be 30 next week.

Clients can only take away food once every two weeks, he added, and are allowed three grocery bags full of food. Starting in November, the pantry will begin asking for identification, "to help keep track of things."

Bean also explained that pantry volunteers don't evaluate the neediness of clients.

"If the richest guy in Culver comes down and signs his name and address, he can get food," he said. "We won't turn him down."

Visitors from Plymouth, for example, while not turned away, are informed of other pantry sites in Marshall County, including of course in their own community.

"But a lot say, 'We've already been to them and they don't give us much food,'" Bean said.

Dennis Lewandowski is Bean's "right hand man," he says, while there are a few ladies who help out when the pantry is open, which takes place after the shelves are stocked early Tuesday morning.

Bean notes he sends a monthly report to the food bank in South Bend telling how many families have come in and how much USDA-provided food has been used. He said the pantry was inspected by the USDA Monday and passed.

He also noted meat may be given to the pantry provided it's pre-packaged. The pantry included a double-wide, commercial freezer, and a home upright and chest-type freezer, respectively. There are also a couple of commercial refrigerators.

The pantry perimeter is lined with metal shelving donated by Park N' Shop when it was remodeled recently (John Elliott power-washed it for the pantry, says Bean).

Produce can be accepted, but Bean prefers to buy it himself, which he only does if it's from the day before, since it doesn't keep well.
Hunters wishing to donate a deer they've killed may do so, but only certified processing plants -- of which there are none in Marshall County at present -- can handle the meat for the pantry.

Besides food, toiletries are hard to keep stocked, and so are in demand, Bean explains.

He asks that, if donors wish to buy items to donate, they purchase a case of one particular food type, such as green beans or corn, rather than "a little of this or a little of that; it's easier to distribute that way. We buy it in quantity."

Bean says operation of the pantry is aided by Pat Birk, who as treasurer handles all monetary donations.

"We've got a good budget," he notes. "During Thanksgiving and Christmas it spikes, but it slows way down until then. It's been very slow this summer."

However, he adds, Union Township on the whole is "very generous.
"I've never run out of food."

Perhaps due to the recent recession, use of the pantry has increased in recent years, Bean points out. The pantry's mission is to serve the Culver Community School district, so its clientele is intended to go beyond the borders of Culver or even Union Township. He estimates over half the pantry's clients come from outside the township, and they vary in demographic, though a number are older residents or young families.

To donate to the Culver food pantry, call Leroy Bean at 574-842-3460, as opposed to simply dropping items off at the church.