STANTON — About 14 years ago, Judy Hardy, along with a few other members of Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Stanton, decided to start a baby pantry in the church’s basement. The decision followed a presentation on the topic to the church’s leadership board.
The church membership had been seeking new ways to serve the surrounding community and a pantry — which would provide diapers, formula and other baby essentials to the area’s economically disadvantaged — seemed the perfect fit. And the need was certainly there.
“Our church was looking for ways to show God’s love to our community,” Hardy said. “This sounded like something we would like to do, that we could do. Of course, back then I didn’t realize how in depth it was going to be.”
A state grant helped fund the pantry’s opening. Donations were at first slow in coming in, but over time they increased in both amount and frequency. Since then, the project has grown to encompass three basement rooms of the church.
These days, the pantry receives funding and supplies from many individual donors, as well as the church itself and other area churches, such as Edmore United Methodist. A group from that church, the Faith Crafters, creates and sells quilts, and then donates the profits to the pantry.
“I can’t say enough about them,” Hardy said. “They are incredibly supportive.”
The pantry has for years been open every Tuesday to handle the many area families and mothers with young children who take advantage of the services there. In recent months, however, that need has been declining. “Business” has grown so slow, in fact, that the pantry is cutting back its hours of operation to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month.
On the surface, this reduction in need might seem like a good thing. If the need is decreasing, then there must be fewer needy, right?
That formula is flawed, however, Hardy said. In truth, the local need for the baby pantry is down somewhat because many of those in need are leaving the area in search of greener financial pastures.
“It’s happening all over,” Hardy said. “You talk with store managers and they say that fewer Bridge cards are coming through. The other pantries are seeing it, too. Our clients who used to have jobs but were struggling … we’re not seeing them anymore. The jobs are just not here.”
The pantry’s clientele previously consisted largely of working, single mothers with young children or one-income families that were still struggling to get by. Lately, however, most of the people Hardy sees coming through the pantry are those living either partly or totally on government assistance.
Hardy credits the exodus of working families in large part to the closing of the Electrolux facility in Greenville and other economic factors.
“I think they’re just moving out,” Hardy said. “Look at all the houses empty and for sale. Once Electrolux went out, the families still lived here, but they were struggling; they still had mortgages.”
Another possible reason for the reduction in clientele might be high gas prices, Hardy added. That’s a theory shared by Ruth Raih, center director of the Alpha Family Center Baby Pantry in Greenville.
According to Raih, numbers also are slightly down at her facility, though only and not enough to prompt management there to alter its current hours.
“The last couple months we’ve been down a bit,” Raih said. “But that’s not necessarily a trend for the whole year. We don’t really know what to attribute it to, but we’re guessing gas prices.”
Raih bases this assumption on the fact it is mainly clients from outlying areas, such as Stanton and Belding, who are turning up less frequently.
“It does take gas to get here and if you’re just coming in to get a couple packs of diapers, it might not be worth the trip,” Raih said. “Those who have their own transportation are still mostly coming, those that have to get a ride find it a lot more difficult.”
Like the pantry in Stanton and others, such as the East Montcalm Baby Pantry in Vestaburg, Alpha Family Center’s pantry provides many different infant needs, such as diapers, formula and clothing for children through age four.
All the pantries operate on a shoestring budget and are continually seeking funding and donations. Some comes from churches and local business, some from private donations. According to Hardy, the number one need is generally diapers.
“It’s our biggest expense,” Hardy said. “Last year, we got through about $16-to-$18,000 worth of diapers.”
The pantry also is currently in need of boys and girls pants in sizes 2 to 5. For some reason, Hardy said, these are “hard to come by” lately.
LOCAL BABY PANTRIES:
• Alpha Family Center, 117 E. Montcalm St. in Greenville (616) 225-2265
• Trinity Evangelical Free Church Baby Pantry, 400 N. Lincoln St. in Stanton (989) 831-5728
• East Montcalm Baby Pantry, 3443 N. Crystal Road in Vestaburg (989) 831-8817