‘We are like family’: Butler County food pantry triples clients during coronavirus struggles

A move to a new location and the need for financial assistance because of the coronavirus pandemic have more than tripled the number of clients served by a Butler County food pantry.

For 14 years the Village Food Pantry provided food out of a church on Morris Avenue, a side street. Before the move to the more visible and accessible North Riverside Drive location and before the COVID left many unemployed, the pantry provided food assistance to about 70 people a week, said Executive Director Pam Benson.

Now the food pantry is serving between 250 and 300 people a week, she said.

On Wednesday, the day the pantry opens to the public, volunteers were busy organizing the food distribution system more than an hour before it opened at 3 p.m. After volunteers removed orange cones that blocked cars from entering the pantry, cars streamed into the parking lot and lined Riverside Drive.

“It’s go time,” Benson yelled to several volunteers who checked in clients, then placed meats, fruits, vegetables and breads in the back seats and trunks of the vehicles that formed three lines.

Benson’s nephew, Brent Billingsley, 45, of Fairfield Twp., volunteers at the pantry, a non-profit that is funded through donations. He called the distribution process “organized chaos.” He said the volunteers range from 10 to 80 years old and represent diverse backgrounds.

“We are like family,” he said.

The volunteers are there to serve the less fortunate, he said.

“If they didn’t have us,” he said, “they would not eat.”

Several of those people waiting in line said it was their first time at the pantry and they heard about the distribution center from friends or after driving by and seeing the sign. They never needed assistance until the coronavirus created financial stress in their homes, they said.

“It’s very helpful,” said Pam Helm, 73, of New Miami. “Everybody is having a hard time right now.”

Helm said the last time she visited the pantry she received pork chops, hamburger, hot dogs and bologna, donations that allowed her to spend more money on other groceries.

Valerie Abner, 57, who lives in low-income housing on the west side of Hamilton, said Wednesday was her first time at the pantry in four years.

“This will help us get through,” she said.

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