Carolyn Galloway is determined that patrons at St. Luke’s Food Pantry get meat in their once-a-month grocery bags. If there is none, like any mother, she goes to Kroger and buys hot dogs.
“It’s not the greatest, but it’s meat,” she says.
With that as a backdrop, Galloway, the pantry’s volunteer administrator, can’t wait to see the looks on faces when the December bags include canned hams from Church of the Holy Communion.
“We can use as many as you all can give,” Galloway said. “We average 342 families a month. We don’t expect you to give that many hams. But we’ll find a place for every ham we get. We especially want to give them to the larger families.”
She’s thinking of the grandmother raising ten grandchildren and a father taking care of eight children. Both use the food pantry at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Highland Avenue.
“A canned ham is a nice extra gift at Christmas,” Galloway says.
Barb Boucher and Galloway cooked up the idea in early November when they realized the pantry would be closed for Christmas break on the day a Holy Communion volunteer normally comes to pack bags.
“I thought, well, what else can we do,” Boucher said.
St. Luke’s had just received a shipment of large, frozen hams, extremely popular with the families who had a way to thaw and cook them. But not everyone did. That’s when Barb and Carolyn landed on canned hams.
“And it’s nice that we are getting them in different sizes,” Galloway said. “The single people can have the small hams.”
Most grocery stores in Memphis carry canned hams, including Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart and Costco. A 48-ounce Hormel brand ham at Walmart in late November was $8.64. Other sizes and varieties are available through the stores’ online shopping portals, including Aldi.
“This project will have a tangible impact on the lives of our neighbors in need,” said Sandy Webb. “We are getting behind this and asking all our Holy Communion families to put one or more hams on the chancel steps leading up to the altar. Or they can bring them up during the offertory.
“I’ve often been told that I like to ‘ham it up,’” he added. “But, I’ve never been encouraged to do it in church before!”
Boucher will deliver the hams to St. Luke’s December 9 and 16.
“They will mean a lot,” she said. “When the holidays come, if people have any extra money, they are probably using it for presents for their kids. We want to give them early so the families know they will have ham for Christmas dinner.”
Boucher volunteered at St. Luke’s for years and knows the size of the need.
“When you carry groceries out to people, you realize some are practically living in their cars.”
St. Luke’s Food Pantry buys staples once a week from the Mid-South Food Bank. It also receives free commodities from the U.S. government, including canned vegetables and spaghetti sauce, and occasionally, luxuries like juices and grated cheese.
Clients, who must meet income eligibility guides, are allowed to pick up groceries once a month. Singles and couples receive one bag, plus nine cans of commodity items, day-old bread from Panera, a roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Families receive two bags of groceries, plus commodities and any extras the volunteer staff can find.
A volunteer checks the names off at the door.
St. Luke’s distributes 10,000 pounds of food a month.
“I think people think the recipients go from food bank to food bank, but you have to live in the ZIP code,” Boucher said. “St. Luke’s is serving people who live around the University of Memphis. When you donate, you are helping people in your community. When I was volunteering, we served 90 to 105 families a day. I always wondered what they were doing in between.”
With cuts to food stamp programs and reductions to other safety-net programs, the number of people relying on food banks is rising, Galloway said.
“We have a lot of elderly people because we have a subsidized elderly high rise close to the church. A lot of our patrons walk from there. We also have women and children and some disabled people,” she said.
She notices their ingenuity by what they bring to carry their groceries home.
“One man has an ice chest on wheels. Some bring luggage they can roll. One guy brings a huge pillowcase.”
Besides hams, the pantry can always use donations of totes, including bags from conferences and meetings.
“We give as much as we can, and it’s a lot to carry on the walk home.”