Even though stay-at-home restrictions are easing up, thousands of North Carolina families are still in need of food and other necessities after unemployment rates reached historic levels. Volunteers from Bountiful Blessings Food Pantry have stepped in to help their neighbors. It’s something they’ve done for nearly two decades.
The food pantry started as a ministry at Mt. Zion Restoration Church in Gastonia in 2002. Three years later, they partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina to help facilitate the growing need. Bountiful Blessings became a nonprofit in 2007 and began operating the pantry each Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“Before [the pandemic], we would feed 1,200 people a month. Now, we’re feeding about 3,500 people a week,” said Mt. Zion’s Pastor Rodney Freeman.
No ID is required; the pantry is open to anyone who needs it. To accommodate the drastic increase of families needing food and supplies, the weekly drive-thru pantry switched to Thursdays beginning at 10 a.m. with cars lining up outside of Mt. Zion as early as 4 a.m. At its height, organizers say they’ve counted nearly 1,800 vehicles in one day.
Volunteers, ranging from faith leaders to nurses to high-school students, fill trunks of cars with free boxes of groceries until supplies run out. In addition to canned goods, other essential items include meats, fruits, masks and toilet paper. Freeman said the boxes provide up to two weeks of groceries for families.
“If there are two families, we put two boxes. If there are three families, we put three boxes,” he explained.
Beyond the food pantry, Mt. Zion is accepting applications from Gaston County residents who need additional money for living expenses. Cynthia Stitt, the church’s youth pastor and a pantry volunteer, says residents can apply through May 22 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The first phase of North Carolina’s modified stay-at-home order is also set to expire on May 22.) Applicants will be notified about the funds beginning May 25.
“Because of the pandemic, people can’t come in [the church] and worship anymore. But, we must teach people about service, too,” Freeman said. “There is an understanding that all of Jesus’ ministry is about service. Our volunteers love it and understand what it’s all about.”
Mt. Zion Restoration Church is located at 2311 Crescent Lane in Gastonia. For more information about the drive-thru food pantry, visit the church’s website or call 704-864-8616.