Tis the season of giving and sharing, so the old saying goes. For Hazel Green resident, Gary Haas, he has devoted nearly 15 years of his life to helping others. Haas manages the Southwest Food Pantry in Hazel Green and during these holiday times, the need for giving is very high.
When the food pantry started in Hazel Green 14 years ago, Haas served just 10 families each month. That need has swelled to nearly 200 families.
Haas said nearly 40 years ago he went with his father to visit a friend who ran a food pantry. "While they were talking I browsed at things and said to myself, "Lord if you every want me to do something like this, let me know," Haas said. Several years later, Haas's wife noticed an article in the paper looking for help with the local food pantry. "I later found out they were looking for someone to run it," Haas said. "At first I didn't want to get too involved but in the years that have followed, the community and outlying areas have been nothing but supportive."
Haas said donations are usually high during the holiday season with schools doing food drives, but he is always cautious to say he has enough. "We are starting to lose ground," Haas said. "We had a supply built up, but the need is constantly growing. For every pound of food I get from the community I can go to the government and get a pound from them."
Haas said monetary donations are down as well. "We can always use monetary donations because I can purchase food cheaper through a government run food agency," Haas said. Depending on eligibility families can visit the food pantry for an allotment of groceries ranging anywhere from $40 to $70 worth of food. "Every family that visits leaves with food from every food group including snacks.
Haas and his eight volunteers are just that... volunteers. They don't get paid and each volunteer is responsible for food collection, sorting and distribution. The food pantry is open every Saturday from 9-11 a.m. and Tuesday from 6-7 p.m. All money and food received at the food pantry goes directly to the people in need.
Haas said the outpouring of support from each and every school, business, organization, and individual is greatly appreciated. "Without the help of these people the food pantry would suffer," Haas said. "It is because of all those people we are still here after 14 years."
Anyone wishing to donate to the food pantry can do so by dropping off food or money during the donation times listed above or by visiting First National Bank in Hazel Green.