‘Thank you from the bottom of our grocery cart’

A local food pantry will be able to buy more cans of chili, fresh vegetables and other staples after getting its largest donation of the year.

The Interchurch Food Pantry, which helps about 70 families per day, got a $20,000 donation from HomeBank. The donation was the largest the pantry received in 2014, pantry co-manager Shelia Morton said. Last year, Interchurch Food Pantry received $10,000 to purchase a vehicle.

Employees of HomeBank surprised pantry employees and board members Monday. As soon as the donation was revealed, Morton burst into tears.

“Wow. That’s all I can say,” Morton said. “Thank you from the bottom of our grocery cart.”

Morton said the pantry will use the money wisely, in order to get as many items as they can to fill their shelves. Families are allowed to visit the food pantry twice per month and stock up on everything from cans of food to fresh vegetables to laundry detergent.

Interchurch Food Pantry is the first Johnson County recipient of HomeBank’s quarterly tithing fund. Every quarter, HomeBank sets aside 10 percent of their net income to donate to organizations in communities where their banks are located.

Since HomeBank opened their Greenwood branch in August, the natural choice was to donate to a group in Johnson County, local president Trent McWilliams said. The bank started giving away tithing donations in 2012.

“It seemed like the fundamental needs of hunger and homelessness and those kinds of things were just so dramatic that we thought we should do something like this that meets an immediate need,” HomeBank chief executive officer Dan Moore said. “We have a passion for poverty because, in banking, you really see it.”

McWilliams used to sit on the board of the Interchurch Food Pantry, and since he left the board in 2009, the amount of families that need the food pantry have grown more than 100 percent, he said.

“I don’t know of any year that the number has gone down,” said the Rev. Peter Jessen of First Presbyterian Church, a long-time volunteer of the pantry.

“Our overhead is very, very low. We pay rent, we pay insurance and utilities, and everything else goes directly to hungry people, which is why I am proud to be a supporter of this organization.”