April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Salvation Army in crisis

Though students save the day, pantry still has hunger pangs

ELYRIA – Impeccable timing by Elyria High School baseball players on Tuesday gave the Elyria Salvation Army just enough to continue doling out holiday food for one more day.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
Capt. Sherry Pelletier of the Salvation Army takes down a sign Tuesday telling the public that it is out of food.

After today, it`s probably back to square one for the Salvation Army on Broad Street, whose food pantry has run bare, said Elyria Salvation Army Capt. Paul Pelletier.

“We have it going out of the door fast – really fast,” Pelletier said.

At about 2 p.m. Tuesday, just as his staff was handing out the last bag of food, Pelletier went to post a note on the door of the building.

“I put a sign on the door saying, ‘Sorry, we are out of food,` and then I look out my window,” Pelletier said.

A pickup full of nonperishable foods – canned and boxed goods, Jell-O, pretzels, rolls – pulled up in front of the building.

“The timing was the most incredible thing I`ve ever seen,” Pelletier said. “God gets the credit for that one.” God and the EHS boys baseball team.

EHS boys baseball coach Steve Sunagel said 21 boys who play on the school`s varsity and junior varsity baseball teams collected an entire pickup full of food Monday night, spending almost two hours going door to door as part of a community service project.

“This is the first time we`ve ever done this, but it was the best timing,” Sunagel said. “It was great.”

The boys, ages 15 to 18, went to different parts of the city from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday, knocking on doors and asking for food donations.

“It was unbelievable,” Sunagel said. “We get there, and there`s a sign on the front door that says, ‘Out of food.` ”

While the fortuitous delivery from the baseball players likely will get the Elyria Salvation Army through today, the agency`s food pantry is still in dire straits.

“It`s been slowly increasing,” Pelletier said of struggling residents` demand for free food. “Last week, we were getting (more than 30) people. Three months ago, the average was 25 a week.”

Within the past week, the demand for the Salvation Army`s food has grown to massive proportions, Pelletier said.

On Monday, the agency handed out 44 bags. On Tuesday, it handed out just as many – and ended up busting its bank.

“We normally do those amounts in two weeks,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier, who is relatively new to the area after moving from Bath, Maine, to assume the head spot at the Elyria Salvation Army, said he`s still trying to understand the dynamics of this region.

“It`s one thing to every two or three weeks say that we need food,” Pelletier said. “But I don`t know how often we should have to go to the community and ask them for (help). I don`t want to exhaust their resources.”

Pelletier said he`ll soon try to develop some interaction with other food pantries and community organizations in the area – and possibly city officials – so everyone doesn`t have to work independently.

“Shouldn`t there be some discussion about how to organize the food pantries a little better?” Pelletier said. “I`m not the kind of person who cares when the average family comes to my food pantry and then goes to three others in a month if people have to do that to survive.

“What I am concerned about is when it happens during a certain season at an accelerated rate, and then I run out of food,” Pelletier said. “I don`t want to begrudge anyone who feels they have to go to more than one pantry to survive, but there has to be some kind of protecting the pantries.”

Pelletier said the pantry rules limit distributions to once a month. Additionally, Pelletier tries to limit the food recipients to local residents, mainly in the Elyria area.

“I suppose I could say they can come in once every two months, but I`m just not ready to do that yet,” Pelletier said.

The Elyria Salvation Army`s Hot Meals program will serve food to residents next week, as it offers a free meal the last week of every month, Pelletier said.

Additionally, the agency is still trying to find volunteers to assist in ringing the bells at collection kettles set up around town, particularly on Saturdays and weekday evenings, Pelletier said.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 652-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.