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Text and photos by Rita Thiel
Ocracoke’s Bread of Life food pantry has expanded and will officially open at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Assembly of God Church on Lighthouse Road.
A prayer and dedication will kick off the celebration of this free-standing building next to the church, followed by a ribbon-cutting by Pastor Ivey Belch and church board members.
The food pantry previously was housed inside the church in a Sunday school classroom.
Now, with the new, pre-fab building from A&W Sales in Belhaven, the church is able to store and provide more food–both non-perishables and perishables.
A donated refrigerator-freezer will store cold items, such as eggs, milk and meats, and a stand-alone freezer will provide storage for frozen items for distribution when needs arise.
“This (food pantry) is something that’s been in my heart to do,” Belch said about the long-awaited expansion. “I continue to be overwhelmed at the generosity shown by both islanders and off-islanders. I had a person from off-island call me and ask, ‘What do you need to get it done?’ and we got it done.”
The tiny house-type building came with a finished exterior, but all of the interior work needed to be done. Volunteers contributed labor and materials as well as monetary donations to complete the project. A new drainage pipe is being laid from the street to the pantry, but should be finished in time for the ribbon -cutting.
Inside, the walls are lined with shelves stocked with a large variety of canned vegetables, meats, fruits, baby food, pastas, rices, peanut butter, condiments, water and paper goods. Vitamins and other health supplements also are in stock. Tubs filled with personal care items, such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste and lotions, are ready and waiting.
Pets are not forgotten. Tubs with dog food and cat food find a place here, too.
The Bread of Life food pantry is not just for those with low incomes, but is open to all in need, Belch stressed.
“It’s a common misconception about food pantries,” said Belch. “If you have a need, whether you’re between jobs and you have trouble making ends meet, or you’ve been sick and can’t get out to get groceries, or even in times of emergencies, like when the bridge went down, or a storm prevents us from leaving the island, the food pantry is open to all. We welcome anyone with a need.”
Nor do you have to be a church member to seek help from the pantry.
“We are a community effort and we are here to serve the entire Ocracoke community,” Belch said. “ We want people to come and see what we’re all about and spread the word.”
While the new building is being finished, the pantry has limited hours, and anyone needing supplies or food is encouraged to call Belch at 252-928-9001 to arrange a visit.
After Feb. 24, the pantry will be open Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m.
But Belch encourages anyone to call him if they need to come at a different time.
“I don’t want our limited hours to stop people from contacting me to open the pantry for them,” he said.
Volunteers are needed to help staff the pantry’s extended hours. A brief, 45-minute training by Belch is required for volunteering, and all services are kept in the strictest of confidence.
Those interested in volunteering can call Belch at the above number.
In addition to sending folks home with a bag or box of groceries from the pantry, Bread of Life also delivers a box or bag of groceries each month to island shut-ins, and other, mostly elderly, residents.