As it prepares to move, food pantry says good-bye to longtime volunteer
June and Phil St. Laurent are moving to Branson soon from their longtime home on Spring Creek in Isabella, and the staff at the Ozark County Health Department and their fellow volunteers at the Ozark County Food Pantry hate to see them go.
“They’ve been wonderful supporters of the food pantry,” said Rhonda Suter, administration of OCHD, which operates the food pantry.
The community service is the result of an idea sparked in 2002-2003 by the Interagency Council with other members of the community, Suter said. The food pantry was set up to help those who need help feeding themselves or their families.
Working with Springfield-based Ozarks Food Harvest, the organizers first arranged for a truck to come from OFH once a month. “It pulled up, and people came and walked around the truck and filled boxes from the pallets,” Suter said.
Later, on Dec. 2, 2003, the food pantry moved into the basement of the health department. Suter believes June St. Laurent was one of the volunteers who worked during that first distribution from the basement, a day when the food pantry served 82 families – 194 individuals.
June’s role has always been to help with food recipients’ paperwork. She remembers that working out of the OCHD basement meant volunteers had to carry in the food, case by case.
In December 2009, the food pantry moved into the old Hodgson Mill processing plant on County Road 806 on Gainesville’s west side. That larger facility allowed food to be unloaded from the OFH trucks on pallets, instead of being carried in by the case. However, the warehouse section of the building has no heat or air conditioning. Fans and small electric heaters are used to make the conditions more bearable for the valiant volunteers who work there.
“They’re tough and they’re dedicated and they’re dependable,” Suter said of the loyal food pantry volunteers, including June St. Laurent, who’s continued serving the community in this way for more than 15 years.
Currently, the food pantry distributes to 250 families a month – 600 to 700 individuals, Suter said.
June and Phil worked in the food pantry together until its distribution days changed to two Wednesdays a month – a day that conflicted with one of Phil’s other activities. Since then, June has continued volunteering alone.
Sometime in the next few months, the food pantry will be moving to its new facility, the former Rick Hopper building on Highway 160/5 west of Gainesville’s business district. OCHD was awarded a community development block grant with South Central Ozark Council of Governments that let it purchase the building, which is now being renovated.
Suter says the OCHD staff and food pantry volunteers are “very excited to get moved to the new location” where they will be in an “updated facility that will help improve services for clients and provide better working conditions for volunteers. Also, the new location will be more visible to the public,” she said.
She had hoped the food pantry would be moved into its new building in time for June St. Laurent to get to work there before she left, but the timing isn’t quite right. The couple’s home has sold, and they will be leaving for Branson soon, June said. They’re moving to be “closer to doctors and stores,” she said.
They have been Ozark Countians since 1997, when they moved here from Chicago, where Phil had worked for the Buick Motor Division and June worked for Wal-mart. “We had been coming down here and vacationing at Turkey Creek a long time, and we were looking for a retirement place that doesn’t have as much snow as Chicago,” she said.
After moving here, they served as American Red Cross volunteers, working in disaster-hit areas such as the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and California after devastating wild fires, among other events. They have also volunteered at what is now The Center in Gainesville, and they served with Theodosia United Methodist Church volunteers.
Phil has been active with the men’s group there, which “has always supported the food pantry by having cookouts and raising and donating money for us to buy food,” Suter said.
She invites other area residents to step up and follow the St. Laurents’ lead in volunteering and supporting the food pantry. For more information about qualifying for food distribution or about volunteering or offering financial support, call OCHD at 679-3334.
The food pantry will be open next month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14.