How Maple Springs fights food insecurity every day

Part of being a relationship company means that we take a great deal of pride in the impact our clients and community partners make. So much so that we have decided to start a new series on our blog that spotlights what organizations and people are doing to make the world a better place.

It seems only fitting that we would kick off the series with a profile of Maple Springs United Methodist Church and its incredible food assistance bank. So this week we’d like to introduce you to Scott Andree Brown, Director of Youth and Food Pantry Ministries, who talked with us about the state of hunger in our community and the power of one church to make a huge difference. 

Scott has been at Maple Springs for more than three years, but the food pantry started back in 2001. Like most things, it was small at first. But over the years, the number of people it serves has grown tremendously. “Originally, the church created the pantry mostly for church members who needed food,” Scott says. “Then they opened it up to anyone in the community who was in need.”

The Maple Springs food pantry averages visits from about 100 families per week, or 400 a month. Typically, visitors are elderly community members who are living on social security or have no income stream at all. Other visitors are on disability. And yet more come for food assistance because they are working but not being paid adequately for living wage — the “working poor” who need to supplement food so that they can feed their families and still pay for utilities, doctors visits and medications. 

“We are a choice program,” Scott explains. “We allow people to come in and shop as a traditional shopping experience. They can pick up food directly from the shelves. We like to give them the dignity of making their own choices of what they are getting.”

Unfortunately, during the pandemic, Maple Springs had to shut down normal operation, where visitors go inside, and instead has been operating outside, handing boxes to those who come for food rather than allowing them to shop.

“95 percent of our food comes from Second Harvest Food Bank,” Scott says. “So it’s store-donated food from places like Publix, Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Walmart. Brands you would typically see in grocery stores.”

Its other source is The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) — a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food assistance at no cost. USDA provides 100% American-grown USDA Foods and administrative funds to states to operate TEFAP.

Maple Springs relies also on public donations. “There is a big demand for cereal, granola, Pop-Tarts, condiments and coffee,” Scott says. “This is what we ask for from the public when they want to give.”

And the need is great. 

The USDA designates an area a “food desert” if it is a location where at least 500 people live and have no access to food within half mile radius. Most of the areas around Highway 52 and East are considered food desserts by this definition. 

“Winston-Salem has a high poverty rate and high food insecurity rate,” Scott says. “Maple Springs is only one of a handful (about 4) of food pantries in the western part of the county (Reynolda and Robin Hood roads). We get people from all over the city and county.”

The statistics prompted the Winston-Salem Journal to write a story about the Maple Springs food pantry last year. The story caught the eye of our president, Gary Knight, who wanted to help. 

“For me, it just seemed logical that if we’re serious about helping those who are hungry, why not take the opportunity to help with our hands in addition to writing  a check?” Gary says. “We are local to the Reynolda Road area, and Maple Springs is our neighbor.”

Gary gathered several ProBenefits employees who wanted to volunteer during operation hours. 

“We get about 16,000 pounds of food delivered from TEFAP that we need to unpack safely, especially now due to the Coronavirus,” Scott says. “ProBenefits put together a crew to come unload. Most recently, they were here last week. They even included some family members.”

The ProBenefits team loves to be involved in supporting our community this way. It is in our company values to support those in need as much as possible. In addition to volunteering, we enjoy making monetary donations to the Maple Springs food pantry so that they can purchase what they need to support our community even more.  

“That has been a huge help,” Scott says. “We’ve been able to stay afloat and also make larger purchases thanks to their help. There are things we wanted to do to expand, and ProBenefits has made that possible. Three new freezers. A palette jack. And we have a goal to buy a truck to help with pickup.” Currently, they are renting trucks once a month, which is not cost-effective.

“We love the people who come and volunteer, “Scott adds. “They are extremely helpful. There have been times when I got a moment’s notice for a delivery, and it was more than we could handle. I sent Gary a message, and the ProBenefits team was here in 30 minutes or so. They dropped what they were doing and got it done. It’s amazing how beautiful that is.”

Would you like to join ProBenefits in supporting the Maple Springs food pantry? Text the word  “food” to 336-777-7062 and follow the instructions to donate. Visit http://maplesprings.org/support/food-pantry to learn more.