Last week hundreds gathered to celebrate 15 years, and give thanks for the thousands of tons of food that Prodisee Pantry has provided to needy families in Baldwin County.
Thousands of children fed. Thousands of volunteers committed to thousands of hours. The operation, now the largest emergency food pantry across four states and 24 counties in Alabama, is arguably the operation that sustains life for those in the direst need.
All of it was possible, said Executive Director, Deann Servos, by faith and prayer.
And, it wasn’t ever easy.
Two years after Hurricane Katrina, she told the crowd, the nation was in the chokehold of a recession. The shelves were barren after the last food distribution before Christmas, save for a few cans of black eyed peas and pineapple. She didn’t know how they would reopen in the New Year.
She sat on an empty shelf to pray.
“A minute later the phone started to ring. I ignored it, because, well, I was talking to God,” she said as the crowd giggled. “It was a tv station. I shared how our donations were down and what was left. I told them I was praying when they called.
“The next morning there was food piled at the door,” she said. “Isn’t God awesome? His plan was already in motion. He just wanted me to answer the phone.”
Servos, one of three women who took on the monumental task of creating the pantry, shared several such “God moments” with the crowd. Moments, she said, that led to the pantry’s success.
“We knew the need existed in our community. We heard them say, ‘there are no poor people here.’ We knew better,” Servos said. “And 15 years ago we would have never dreamed of all of this.
“We help by feeding their emotional, spiritual and physical hunger,” she said. “It’s about faith. Faith and prayer is what runs this ministry.”
Since opening their doors 15 years ago, the pantry has helped 333,794 people in Baldwin County . Those shelves full of food were stocked, carried and distributed by 3,700 volunteers who worked 40,000 hours. Servos said their time is valued at $1 million.
On distribution days dozens of additional community services also come to assist families with other needs such as job searches, clothing, housing and medical needs.
Perhaps most important, Servos said, pantry volunteers are simply present.
“We are so much more than a box of groceries,” Servos said. “We listen to, love on and connect with each family in our program.”