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Church pantry offers grace, groceries
Gwyn Hanie, left, and Cecilia Fowler help pack bags for the food pantry at Cumming Baptist Church. The pantry is open from 9-11 a.m. on Mondays. - photo by Jim Dean

The Cumming Baptist Church at 115 Church St. opens its pantry from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Mondays.

Atop the flour, potatoes and bread, Janette Barfield added some bracelets to the top of a man's brown bag filled with items from the church food pantry.

A log of pantry visitors shows the man has two grandchildren. Barfield suspects they'll like some goodies as much as the adults will appreciate the groceries they can't always afford.

Cumming Baptist Church food pantry offers the essentials and more to community members in need each Monday.

The pantry opened in June and had served clients 999 times by the end of 2010, said Gayle Sumrell, volunteer and organizer.

Those numbers are also a stark reminder that Forsyth County has not been immune to the sluggish economy, a situation that has many local nonprofits and ministries scrambling to fill the community's steady need.

Looking around the stock room on a recent morning, Sumrell marvels at how church members have pitched in time and donations to make the pantry successful.

"All our church wants to be involved," she said. "We're all very devoted. I absolutely love doing this."

The church includes a list of needed items in the bulletin each Sunday. Members donate them, usually through the Sunday school the following week.

Atlanta Bread Company also gives bread it hasn't sold on Sunday to Cumming Baptist and other area pantries.

At the pantry, volunteers prepare bags with essentials, and clients pick up a full bag along with some bread and other extras from a table.

Sumrell said the pantry tries to focus on items not covered by food stamps, such as toilet paper.

Margaret McClain, a volunteer who greets clients, said the toilet paper is often a welcome sight for visitors, who tend to come on the same weeks.

"When they come in coincides with when they get their food stamps," McClain said. "Two Mondays out of the month, we're real busy."

She's also noticed that several people who work in construction fields have been coming in for assistance.

Volunteers said employment is one of the top needs listed on the question card visitors fill out at the pantry.

If people put those hopes and others into the prayer box, the Cumming Baptist prayer group or clergy will honor those requests.

Barfield, who heads up the front of the pantry, said its important for the church to help people in the community, both in prayer and in service.

She said they often put Christian devotionals inside the brown bags to encourage keeping faith.

"If they're attending another church, that's fine, as long as they're going somewhere," she said. "If they're not, we invite them to ours and encourage them to do so."

The pantry also provides a list of other food banks in the area and their hours so clients can get assistance when they need it.

William Butterworth, who picked up a bag of supplies on a recent Monday, said he enjoys stopping by the pantry since the volunteers are faithful and kind.

"If it weren't for y'all, there'd be more people hungry," he said.