Jesus In Disguise
The bags of food are packed, the volunteers are in place, and the cars at Jesus in Disguise Pantry in Benton are snaked around the parking lot. The crew shared a brief prayer before opening the overhead garage doors to begin serving patrons. Nearly every Saturday is a busy one, but this one is especially so because it’s the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
The monthly pantry, which operates out of a small building behind St. Denis Catholic Church in Benton, is an ecumenical effort that also includes Lacroix United Methodist Church and Unity Baptist Church in Benton and St. Lawrence Catholic Church in New Hamburg.
The pantry serves 60 to 70 families with roughly 250 individuals from the Kelly, Oran and Scott Central School Districts each month, according to Frank Glueck, one of the pantry organizers. Those numbers jump slightly in November and December because of the holidays and in June and July because kids, who may receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches at school, are home for the summer, said Cheri Vetter, another organizer.
St. Denis pastor Father Bala Swamy Govindu has been surprised at the number of people the pantry serves.
“I came from India, and I used to think poor people were in India, but there are poor people here too that we need to help,” he said.
Jesus in Disguise is a well-oiled machine in accomplishing that task: One group of volunteers shepherds the cars into place; another checks in patrons; yet another group helps patrons with their bags of food, while a fourth group of volunteers creates more bags for the seemingly never-ending line. In another room students from Notre Dame Regional High School’s WINGS (Women In God’s Service) make coffee and hot chocolate to take to volunteers.
On this Saturday each family is getting a turkey, compliments of donors, such as Craftsman Utility in Sikeston whose employees donated 35 turkeys through its Craftsman Cares program. Steve Holman, his wife and three children were there to help for the morning.
“(Helping) makes you feel good,” Holman said. “I like it because it helps show my kids the right thing to do.”
For many of the pantry patrons and volunteers, the gathering is a social one and they’ve built relationships over the years.
“They really treat you good here, and you get the food you need,” said Ella Parks of Benton. “I’ve worked all my life, but I’m getting old now, and we don’t get all that much money through Social Security, and my husband has been sick. Coming here helps me save a lot on groceries. And we’re going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving.”