Local partnership will help feed local families

Published 10:23 am Saturday, September 19, 2015

AMERICUS — With its emphasis on good nutrition as a major factor in total wellness, Perry Wellness Center (PWC) has become a natural partner in a food outreach effort for local families in need. The local mental health and substance abuse recovery program has joined with Harvest of Hope, a local food bank, and First United Methodist Church of Americus to help provide fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables to economically disadvantaged families.
Stuart Perry, founder of PWC, is not only an advocate for good nutrition for all, but a supporter of area farmers. Rudy’s Happy Patch Market, operated by staff and peers of the center, promotes local buying by filling its inventory with produce from local farmers and gardeners, as well as food grown on site. This summer, the market is filled with fresh peas, beans, watermelons, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.
In handling this array of fresh and frozen produce, PWC must be mindful of all health codes, including deadlines for selling. Produce quality and expiration dates are closely monitored with unannounced visitation from the Georgia Board of Health inspector. After years of having to discard outdated frozen and fresh produce, Perry decided to find a better way to deal with the problem.
He began by making contact with Judy Tott, an active member of First United Methodist Church and a retired mental health professional.
“First Methodist is always leading our community in helping other less fortunate families,” Perry said. “We want to join with them and help provide goodness in fresh and frozen vegetables that are close to their expiration date.”
Perry knew that Tott would be the perfect contact. She is a tireless volunteer in the Methodist ministry.
“I am proud of the legacy of helping and giving back to our community that my church continues to do,” Tott noted. “We have several great outreach events throughout the year. Along with other church members, she participates in such projects as the Blessing of the Book Bags each July, Stop Hunger Now in September, Samaritan’s Purse/Shoebox Ministry at Christmas, and the Hispanic Outreach Ministry, which includes sending mission teams to Cuba in the fall.
After talking with Perry, Tott immediately saw a perfect partnership link and contacted the Rev. Sonny Pinckard, executive director of Harvest of Hope Food Pantry, along with his wife Ginger. In a matter of hours, Tott had planned a meeting of all three entities to develop a new partnership. With close collaboration, Harvest of Hope could become a new drop-off point for some of the local wellness center’s excess produce.
Harvest of Hope was established in 2012, after the Pinckards took over the operation of the SAMA (Sumter Area Ministerial Association) food pantry in Americus. When first asked about taking on this task, they declined, but reconsidered and met with interested citizens about the project. At that time it was determined that the existing SAMA food pantry would be replaced with a “stand alone” food pantry with its own identity, board and non-profit status.
A new mission statement was created that addressed the new organization’s intent.
“Responding to the call of Jesus Christ, the Harvest of Hope Food Pantry feeds the hungry, promotes physical and spiritual health, and brings people together in a community of love.”
Two years ago, a building to house the food pantry was purchased, and the first food deliveries were made on June 4, 2013, from the 606 McGarrah St. location. First United Methodist Church was asked to allow Harvest of Hope to become an outreach program of the church until it received its non-profit designation. Through that relationship, an enduring connection between the two organizations was established.
Harvest of Hope has been successful in identifying community needs and providing outreach. From its first distribution of food to 71 households two years ago, distribution has grown to an average of 750 families each month. The food pantry, open four Tuesdays each month, can provide one food distribution per month to each participating family. Over 80 volunteers provide a total of approximately 650 hours of service each month, and food donations come from a variety of church and civic groups as well as local farmers and retail stores.
With the new partnership among Perry Wellness Center, First United Methodist Church and Harvest of Hope, more families can be reached and receive high-quality, nutritious food each month.