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Posted: December 31, 2011 12:00 a.m.

The helping hands of Social Circle

There are many things about my community that I either didn't know about, or maybe I didn't pay enough attention to. One of these things is the work that the Social Circle United Methodist Church has been doing to assist those in need. It came to my attention the other day as I listened to a "Calling Post" message from our Quilting Belles president, Marion Burnette, reminding us to bring two cans of food for the food pantry to our Christmas party. I didn't know we even had a food pantry in Social Circle. So I investigated further and learned that the food pantry is actually a satellite unit of Faith in Serving Humanity in Monroe, an organization where we donate food supplies, "gently used" clothing, furniture and other usable household goods in exchange for a charitable donation write-off on our income tax forms.

I learned that the food pantry at the Social Circle United Methodist Church was established about six years ago when a Sunday school group, inspired by a six-session video-based study entitled "40 Days of Love" by world renowned spiritual leader Rich Warren, conceived the idea of a satellite FISH ministry in conjunction with their existing informal food pantry program.

The study group members who initiated this idea were Pat Preston, Carolyn Neely, Judy and Bubba Mauldin, Elaine and Danny Glass, Mary Ray and George Welden and Marianne and Johnny Rainey. Their idea led to an active, ongoing partnership between SCUMC and FISH.

The food pantry operation is based upon policies and procedures adopted by the Monroe FISH office. At the outset FISH provided a freezer and refrigerator to the Social Circle satellite for storage and maintenance of food, application forms and procedures, and check lists of food supplies to be made available for families of varying sizes as approved in the application process.
Clients are encouraged to limit their food requests to one time a month, and most respect this policy. Clients without paperwork can only get temporary food once and must then apply for food stamps and bring proof of their need for future assistance.

The food pantry in Social Circle is open at the church every Thursday between 3 and 5 p.m. Training of staff volunteers was done in Monroe, which also prescribed uniform policies and procedures. The way the system works is that anyone can come in and fill out an application for assistance. The application includes questions about current employment or unemployment, number of persons in the household, household income and expenses and other relevant information. Trained interviewers then evaluate the information and make their recommendation regarding eligibility. If the applicants require any assistance beyond food, the information is relayed to the Monroe office.

On Thursday I made a visit to the Social Circle Methodist Church Food Pantry to observe the operation. Social Circle resident Barry Kiefaber was conducting interviews, while volunteers Anne Salisbury, Sue Williams, Betty Watkins and Carolyn Neely were packaging food for Jack Burnette to deliver. My impression was that they were not only truly committed to the job at hand but also thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Paul and Nancy Posner arrived with more food. I learned that earlier in the day, the Sunday school class of residents Kemal and Dee Joseph at the Covington First Baptist Church had made a donation of food and cash to the food pantry. Others who are regular participants in operating the food pantry include Judy and Bubba Mauldin, Marion Burnette, Elaine Glass, Molly Kimler, Tom Watkins, SCUMC Youth Minister Bryan Johnson and Sue Mitchell.

The food pantry in Social Circle will not turn away anyone in immediate need but is geared mainly to serving Social Circle city residents. Those from other locations and those needing things that can't be provided locally such as help with rent and/or utility payments, clothing, temporary health care, etc. are referred to the Monroe office.

There are also FISH satellite programs in Loganville and Youth. Although no one in need is turned away, a concerted effort is made to ferret out people who use or abuse the system - for example - to sell food for drugs or alcohol.

The pantry serves approximately eight to 10 families a week. About half are regular customers, and half rotate in and out. Clients typically include a small number of homeless persons, persons who run afoul of the law such as convicted felons who can't get food stamps, persons temporarily out of work, elderly people on fixed incomes, people with serious illnesses and single mothers with children.

Bob Fesperman, retired from AT&T and a food pantry volunteer, got involved when he no longer was able to play golf due to health reasons. He feels it is a wonderful way to stay involved in the community. Every Thursday morning, he heads for FISH in Monroe in his pickup truck to pick up food for local distribution - frozen goods, eggs and canned food - donated by local stores such as Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, etc. Bread is sometimes available in Monroe, but most often is purchased with donated funds.

SCUMC Secretary Pat Preston described volunteer Anne Salisbury as being one of their most devoted workers. "She not only helps here on Thursday but also delivers FISH 4 KIDS food in the summer. Anne is a member of the Catholic Church. We have several who are not in our church but give of their time and money." She also mentioned former resident Harry Adams who sends funds every few months, Dee and Kemal Joseph's Sunday School Class, called "The Mission Seekers," at the Covington First Baptist Church which sends food just about every week and a local family who a few years ago did not exchange gifts but brought food.

Cindy Little, director of the FISH ministry, is greatly supportive of its partnership with SCUMC. SCUMC and the Corinth Christian Church in Youth are the two FISH satellites that serve western Walton County. She commented that "People are hurting as never before. Transportation is one of their biggest issues. Many of the people most in need have no way to get to Monroe. The most vulnerable people are the elderly, small children and the mentally impaired. Our local satellites are of a great benefit to so many of them."

She complimented the volunteer staff at the Food Pantry in Social Circle because of their great commitment and seriousness with which they do their job. She also talked about the Fish 4 Kids program, through which 156,000 sack lunches were delivered to children last summer. Churches in Social Circle, including SCUMC and the First Baptist Church of Social Circle, participated in this program. Cindy concluded by saying, "We come together as brothers and sisters to help each other in times of need. That is what we are here for and that is what we do."

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