St. Clement's Food Pantry

Volunteers packs goods into bags and boxes at St. Clement's food pantry on July 27. (Photo by Noah Scialom / August 13, 2013)

It is a Wednesday evening in Lansdowne and the Washington Avenue campus of St. Clement Church is bustling with activity.

Both Baltimore County and Baltimore City residents file through the front doors, down the entry hallway and into the church's kitchen area to collect enough food to last their families through the end of the week.

"It's virtually everyone in the community," said operations manager Tim Walsh of the pantry's demographic. "Whatever the composition of the community, we see it here."

The St. Clement twice-weekly food pantry, which is also open on Saturdays, has been in operation for about six years and has grown significantly in that time.

When it started, the pantry would distribute about 40 bags of food per week, or about 3,200 pounds per month, Walsh said.

"Today, normally, through the period of the year, we hand out about 250,000 pounds," he said.

He said the pantry used to pre-pack bags of food, store them in the front closet of the church and then hand them out to people who knocked on the door looking for the pantry.

"That was our model," he said. "We had no contact with the people we were helping."

The process was not fulfilling.

"The act of shutting the door in their faces was traumatic," Walsh said.

In an economy still fighting to escape The Great Recession, Walsh said it was important to make sure the church opened its doors to anyone and everyone who might need help, and in a friendlier manner.

Now, pantry patrons are given a letter [A, B, C or D] that corresponds with the number of people in their family. That number determines the number of bags of food they can fill.

He estimated that one bag of food provides enough food for two people for three days.

Organizers hope that bridges the gap until the next paycheck comes through or until rent is paid, he said.

A partner of the Maryland Food Bank, the pantry also gets food donations — cans, dried goods, etc. — from local stores.

In addition to those supplies, there are also meals created by the Maryland Food Bank's FoodWorks program.

FoodWorks is the a 12-week culinary training program during which individuals interested in a career in food service learn from professional chefs in the kitchens at the Halethorpe-based Food Bank. The students use donated perishable food to make individual meals.

"They make a bunch of food and freeze it," Walsh said. "We buy it and the frozen food is usually about 10 cents a pound."

Filling in the gap

Almost all of the money to support the pantry and St. Clement's other food distribution programs is donated from parishioners.