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New Clemmons Food Pantry is open for clients

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

When the Spiritual Growth Sunday School class of Clemmons United Methodist Church decided to adopt a family for Christmas years ago, they had no idea that their altruistic project would lead to a community pantry that would eventually outgrow two locations. The third of those buildings that houses the new Clemmons Food Pantry on Neudorf Road began accepting clients on Jan. 19.

The pantry has served clients since 2004. Its first location was in a space in the Meadowbrook Mall. After nine years, it moved to its second location on Old Glory Road where it has shared the building with a community church. The new location is several hundred yards away on Neudorf Road. It sits on land owned by Clemmons United Methodist Church, and there is a 50-year lease on the property.

Although there was still some work to be completed at the new site in January, a small but determined group of volunteers made it possible to serve clients without missing one scheduled day of client visits. Since then, most of the work on the new pantry has been completed except for installing some lighting in the shelving area and having the parking lot paved when the weather allows.

Syd Cunningham, who has volunteered for more than 10 years at the pantry, was among those who helped with the transition from the old pantry to the new location.

“We had bunches of people who volunteered to help with the move,” Cunningham said, “but with the virus we kept it to a small number. Despite that, we were able to move in a couple of days and not miss a day on the schedule of meeting clients.”

Cunningham noted that the extra space in the new building will offer many advantages over the old location. “When you look at the building from the outside, it doesn’t look very big,” he said, “but when you get inside, it looks really spacious.  Space-wise it is a little over two times what we had in the old building, but it seems even bigger than that, especially with the high ceilings.”

Several important upgrades with the bigger location that Cunningham is excited about are a larger storage area for food, a larger client waiting area, and a dock in the back of the building to receive shipments. “This is a massive improvement over what we had,” he said. He noted that the dock will make it much easier to receive shipments compared to the old location, and that it will take much less time do so.

Kathy Kovack is the executive director of the Clemmons Food Pantry, and she has been faced with the daunting task of overseeing the move during the pandemic and during a period of persistent rainy days. “I don’t know how Kathy has survived the whole construction ordeal and the move,” Cunningham said. “She has done an amazing job.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, clients have been meeting volunteers outside for almost a year to pick up their food, and Kovack is anxious for them to be served inside the new building. “It’s so bright and cheerful, and it has been set up with the client in mind,” she said.   

Kovack is particularly excited about the additional space in the new building. The clients will be seated in a large waiting area, and there is more space for them to shop. It is handicapped friendly as the added space can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. There is also a conference room in the new building that will be used for volunteer meetings until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. When clients can be allowed in the building, the conference room will be used for classes covering financial management, cooking and nutrition.

Food Lion donated the shelving, and most of the work on the interior work has been completed. Kovack is quite proud of how things eventually came together for the construction of the new facility and the move to the new location. “This has been like a painful childbirth,” she said, “but now we have a beautiful baby!”

The construction of the new pantry has been financed strictly by community donations. It is already half paid for, and Kovack is hoping that the loan that has been secured for the balance can be paid off in five years. She noted that anyone who would commit to a large donation can have naming rights to the pantry that is currently named The Clemmons Food Pantry, Center of Harvest.

Joe and Linda Riggsbee were two of the members of the Sunday school class at Clemmons United Methodist Church who have seen their Christmas project transform into a community pantry that has grown significantly over the years.   

“When we adopted the family, we thought that was awesome,” Linda said, “and, then we realized that we did not have to be doing this just at Christmastime. We realized that is was something that we could be doing all year.”

“Our pastor at the time said, ‘If you have a good idea, just do it,’ ” Joe said. He noted that eventually the idea came about to expand the church’s work to a community pantry so that requests could be made for corporate donations and for other churches and community organizations to be involved. Doug Gardner, a local physician, was the chairperson who oversaw the transition of the pantry to become a community organization.   

The transfer to becoming an independent organization occurred in 2012. What began as a small group project expanded to a community pantry that has served tens of thousands of clients over the past 16 years.

Last year, the pantry served 25,418 clients and distributed 537,086 pounds of food. Since becoming independent, the pantry has served 236,774 clients.

The growth of the Clemmons Food Pantry, both in terms of the size of its facilities and in the number of clients that it has served, are a testament to the spirit of giving of the Clemmons community. Kovack spoke to this with these thoughts: “We have had thousands of volunteers over the years. This has been an amazing community effort. Clemmons should beat its chest over what we have accomplished.”