WAHOO – Gene Mercer said he’s been involved with the Saunders County Food Pantry program since 2015.
His initial interest in wanting to volunteer within the community led him to the pantry.
“I knew that the pantry was run by the local ministerial association where I was already volunteering,” he said.
Although the pantry has been open for 35 years, Mercer’s first experience with the Saunders County Ministerial Association was as treasurer. This ultimately led him to Ron and Cindy Bartek, who Mercer said basically ran the pantry.
As things progressed the Barteks’ involvement declined and Mercer’s increased, which he said was fine.
After Ron passed away his family came to me and thanked me for picking it up on his behalf and asked me to not let it go, I’m still here,” he said.
Mercer said the application process is simple. Unlike other pantry programs, there is no income limitation.
“If a person has a need for food, we get them food,” he said. “They simply contact one of the local churches in town or the surrounding areas. They will arrange for the family to meet the priest or one of the pastors at a prearranged time and pick up their food.”
According to Mercer the number of families served remains consistent at 20 to 25 families monthly. The only change he’s seen is during the winter.
Cold weather seems to reduce the number of people who reach out for help, he added.
To keep their program going Mercer says they rely on the goodness of many local donations.
Recently SunMart Grocery Store did what they call a cash register drive where folks could donate whatever amount they wanted and it all went to the pantry.
“The check we just received was for $2,100,” he said.
Another upcoming event is the annual Chili Cook Off which is scheduled for Feb. 1 at the Vet’s Club. All profits are donated to the pantry and include canned foods.
Donations come to them from individuals, churches, other organizations, clubs and schools. Money and food comes from all of those organizations.
Mercer said he’s grateful for community members and local businesses such as Rick Carlson at SunMart for hosting the fundraiser and their support of the food pantry.
“The generosity of the people of Wahoo and Saunders County is great,” he said.
Current needs at the pantry include flour, sugar, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jelly, spaghetti sauces, noodles, boxed dinners, rice, cake mixes, cereal, pancake mixes, canned fruit, canned meat such as tuna, canned pasta, boxed potatoes, pasta noodles, juice and all kinds of toiletries and laundry detergent.
Mercer said volunteers are always needed, especially to help pack the food for the backpack program.
The backpack program, coordinated by the Saunders County Ministerial Association, began in 2012 after identifying a need to help local children who were experiencing lack of food availability on the weekend.
According to Mercer, every Friday local children bring home healthy snacks and easy-to-prepare foods in their backpacks to help offset any food shortages they might face over the weekend.
Mercer also said that money donations are always welcome.
Checks can be given to area churches in Wahoo or donations can be mailed to 714 N. Beech St., Wahoo, NE 68066.
For those wanting to specify where the donations go to such as the pantry, backpack program or emergency assistance they are encouraged to include that information with their request.