By John Davis
OPC Community Relations Director
A new program, supported by several key RSVP volunteers, will help make it easier for The Pantry to feed local families in need.
Over the past month, John Kohne and other members of the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program of Oxford have been putting their fingers to work, inputting vital information into computers that is necessary for The Pantry to distribute food on a weekly basis.
Kohne, who serves at The Pantry’s Director of Food Distribution, said the new system was first introduced to him last June. The Pantry receives food from the Mid-South Food Bank as the part of Feeding of America initiative and it can’t have access to food without providing this new data. Mid-South serves 31 total counties in west Tennessee, north Mississippi and eastern Arkansas.
“Mid-South Food Bank wants to take advantage of all the monies and all the grants that it can to better serve our regional area. But in order to do that, all of those grants have a certain demographic laid out,” Kohne said. “They want to see how they are distributing and how they are controlling their population. They don’t have that information unless we provide it.”
There are between 125 and 130 families, locally, who depend on food from The Pantry each week. Kohne had 5,000 pounds of food delivered at the beginning of February, and the cost is basically 18 cents per pound.
“I basically pay a handling fee because the food has been donated,” Kohne said. “And this data entry program will help keep us getting the food from Mid-South. This is vital to us like a lot of other places that Mid-South serves.”
RSVP Director Arledia Bennett was ready to assist when she was first told about the new requirements revolving around the data. She had three computers in the conference room of her office, and she helped get volunteers in place for the work to begin.
“We were excited when Ann O’Dell talked to the RSVP staff about the data entry that was being required for the Oxford Food Pantry because we immediately realized that this was going to be another way that RSVP volunteers could assist with the Pantry,” Bennett said. “Along with the volunteers, we have been able to offer the space and use of computers for the volunteers to enter the required data.”
Steve Case is one of the volunteers who has spent time typing in information. He moved to Oxford four years ago. He is retired, so he signed up to take part in RSVP projects. The Pantry was one of the first organizations he dealt with.
“I was very touched by the people. My wife was helping to do the shopping and I was hauling shopping carts,” he said. “I still remember some of the clients giving me a hug just for hauling their stuff out to their car. I saw people in need and I saw an appreciation of the food that was made available. I look forward to doing it and did it for several weeks until I became a little physically disabled. So, when I heard about this data entry program, I felt like that there was a way to get back involved with the Pantry.”
Kohne who moved to Oxford in 2010 and retired in 2013, started working with The Pantry through his church, St. John’s Catholic Church. Two months after starting his role, he decided that he could do more as a full-time volunteer and now works between 40 and 80 hours per month.
“I’ve been maintaining records on the Pantry for the last five years and I put out the monthly reports,” Kohne said. “The Pantry thrives and survives because of 12 congregations and RSVP volunteers who step up and run this organization. And for me, I’ve been volunteering since I was a young boy. I would go stir crazy sitting at the house. My wife is the one that kicks me out, and The Pantry is an outlet for me.
“We service 130 families and also deliver to 70 homebound families. Once data is put in the system, it doesn’t change,” Kohne added. “When they return, it can be a check and go. What the new data allows us to do is to find out how many single mothers with multiple kids are we serving. This will give us this breakdown.”
Connie Parham joined the first group to record the data. She’s been volunteering at The Pantry recently and has grown to appreciate the importance of the organization.
“There is so much food insecurity in Oxford. It’s not seen, and not known about much,” she said. “But people can’t go to work and go to school and do that well when they’re hungry. I’m so glad that people are so generous and we have ways to help these people.”