TLC Food Pantry scales back, needs exceed donations

CEDAR CITY – After six years of providing up to 140 hungry families with food every week, workers at the TLC Food Pantry in Cedar City have had to make some tough decisions and scale back the amount of food each family can receive.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The pantry is largely run on grants, pantry director Mary Denman said, but the supplemental donations of cash and in-kind they usually receive have been dwindling, which leaves less to offer the families who depend on the pantry every week.

There is a no-judgement, no-questions policy at the food pantry, volunteer Tondra Castillo said; meaning, they have a simple sign-in sheet for patrons to leave limited information that is confidential, but there is no requirement to show proof of income, ID or any other documentation to prove that a customer is in need of food.

The sign-in sheet asks only seven questions: number of people in the household, age range, whether the household is a single-parent household, whether at least one person in the household is employed, name, zip code and ethnicity.

The only reason they even have a sign-in sheet is to track statistics for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s food program grants that help provide food to the pantry, Castillo said.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“We do want you to know that two-thirds of all of our numbers in this year are families that are working families,” she said. “And that’s a big deal to us – that we are serving a community that two-thirds of our families are working.”

It doesn’t matter what the reason is for the need, Castillo said, whether it’s an income situation or a fear of running out of food that is driving patrons through the door, the community pantry is happy to help everyone who asks for help.

“We give them a bag of food,” Denman said, “if they need a hug, we give them a hug, smile at them, joke around with them and send them out the door.”

Early every Wednesday, volunteers gather at the True Life Center and prebag food for the families who will be in that day to collect food. Each food bag has cereal; a vegetable; a can of fruit; and pasta, rice or mashed potatoes.

After collecting their bag of food, customers can choose a bread to go along with their items, and most recently, a bag of potatoes – a couple of months ago, it was fresh oranges.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“This is so minimal compared to what we were doing,” Castillo said. “Right now we’re just really, really short. We were doing the chickens and the cheeses and we were doing a lot more, but right now we just don’t have it.”

A tour through the pantry’s food storage room, complete with freezers, refrigerators and wall-to-wall shelves quickly explained why the food bags were so much smaller than pantry coordinators would like to offer.

One consistent source of food is the Utah Food Bank, Denman said. When they first began to receive food from the Utah Food Bank it was only supplemental, she said, but now it is their main food source.

Food drives have been successful in the past, Castillo said, but these days they are having to be a little more creative with their fundraising. For instance, there is a matching grant program through the Utah Department of Workforce Services that allows them to weigh the food that is donated to the pantry, she said, and they receive a check in return at the rate of 12 cents per pound.

They have even had customers return the good fortune when their personal situation that required the extra assistance changed for the better.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

One woman brought the TLC Community Pantry 100 gallons of milk to return the kindness. Cedar City resident Nila Magnum said she chose milk, because it weighed 9 pounds per gallon and she knew it would give the pantry a good return on their Workforce Services grant from the state.

Wednesday through Friday this week the food pantry will be selling $20 vouchers for Pioneer Day fireworks, Castillo said. With each $20 voucher purchased in advance, she said, donors will receive $40 worth of fireworks when they redeem it at the Cedar City Wal-Mart fireworks booth; which is run entirely by volunteers from the True Life Center.

When the TLC Food Pantry started out six years ago, Denman said, they were excited to serve five or six families in a week. Today, she said, with the responsibility of helping nearly 140 families every week, the pressure is on when the food is gone.

First time, stay-at-home mother Marisol Vazquez said the small amount of food she receives every week at the TLC Community Pantry allows her to continue to stay at home with her newborn infant. Her husband works long hours in St. George as a construction worker, but money is still tight. Without the extra help, she said, she would have no choice but to return to work.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

With tears in her eyes, Castillo said she was unaware that the pantry created such a significant impact in the lives of the people they served.

“Sometimes we focus on either ‘we don’t have enough’ or ‘this is all that we have?’ and we don’t realize that what we are being able to give to the families right now is making that big of a difference,” Castillo said. “I mean, when you tell me that a mom is staying home and being able to be there with a child, care for a child and raise a child versus having to go to work full time – just because of that little bit of food – I mean, that gives us a lot of hope.”

Over and over patrons said the same thing. The people at the food pantry are the nicest and most welcoming people they have ever come across. Whether it’s a welcoming hug or a smile and a handshake, the volunteers at the TLC Community Pantry make them feel like human beings and not beggars when they come for food help.

TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
TLC Community Pantry serves up to 140 falimies a week, True Life Center, Cedar City, Utah, July 8, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

One of her biggest fears, Denman said, is having to turn away a family in need. A couple of weeks ago, that almost happened.

“About an hour before closing we gave out our last bag of food that we had,” she said. “I was terrified that a family would show up before we could pack up and leave and I would have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, we are out of food.’”

Vouchers for the fireworks fundraiser can be purchased at the True Life Center or by contacting Tondra Castillo through Facebook.

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Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • fun bag July 19, 2015 at 11:02 am

    should check green cards and any illegals should be deported immediately…

    • wilbur July 19, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      ….don’t need no stinkin’ green cards gringo….we got a california drivers lisense..see?

      • 42214 July 19, 2015 at 8:15 pm

        That’s about as credible as a Utah open book test. Both are jokes.

  • Simone July 19, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I know that the Mormons give a whole bunch of “humanitarian aid to foreign countries” but why don’t they give it here first? Oh that’s right, they’d be caught in another lie pretty quick.

    • native born new mexican July 19, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      you have no idea how much Mormons give here locally Simone. I do. I assure you they give and give generously. I am not talking about church tithing or fast offering which is a whole different matter. I am talking out of pocket money or service to help others. I am in a position to see it go on all the time. I have seen people (Mormons!) who really had nothing themselves hand over money simply because they knew someone else needed it worse than they did. Why do you always have to be so unkind towards others living in the community around you?

      • Simone July 19, 2015 at 9:44 pm

        Utah’s brand of Mormons are extremely good to other Mormons, especially when they believe someone is watching. Outsiders? mmm not so much 🙂 Speaking as someone who has been both, that is my experience and one of the many reasons I left the church.

        • fun bag July 19, 2015 at 10:16 pm

          There’s exceptions but mostly I see local mormons either totally ignore “gentiles” or be downright icy. As far as being helpful… meh, I’ll believe it when i see it…

        • native born new mexican July 19, 2015 at 11:43 pm

          One example Simone- non member lady who lived down the street – husband had an accident in the house and died. It was not a pretty sight believe me. The Mormon neighbors showed up to help the lady. I know. I was there. I have some experience with trauma and I have a “strong stomach” so I was able to go in and clean up. Some other people (Mormons) didn’t have the stomach for it but they MADE themselves help me even when I told them I was up to doing it. They tried to compliment me but the really good people were them because they did it any way. They also brought in food and helped with the husband’s funeral.
          They made a point of checking on the lady and really tried to help her get past the tragedy. That is only one example out of several I have witnessed myself. Good people are good to people. They help where they can. I know. I have seen it.

  • ffwife July 19, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    If you could help people learn better shopping choices, many could make their food dollars go farther. I know it is not all people receiving assistance, but many squander the food money given to them and then show up at places like the pantry with their hand out. It is nice that you are not making people qualify, but maybe that needs to be looked at.

    Being employed does not mean what it once did. It is more difficult now due to the heath care coverage requirements. Many employers that once were able to provide full or very close to full time jobs don’t because of the insurance issue. The result is everyones purse strings are pulled a little tighter these days.

    People need to wake up and turn off the TV and pay attention to all the stuff going on before it is too late.

    • fun bag July 19, 2015 at 10:14 pm

      Fox news told me it’s all Obama’s fault. And fox news NEVER lies! I trust them with my mammy’s life!

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