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Ministry feeds the hungry all year long

Thanksgiving Day is a time when many people count their blessings and remember there are others who are less fortunate.

However, that’s a year-long reality for Lorna Slaughter, who runs a food pantry and soup kitchen that operates six days a week at Suffolk Christian Fellowship Center on East Washington Street.

Slaughter said the need is growing, and more people than ever are using the service.

“I used to be able to call everyone’s name,” she said, remembering when she knew everyone who came in. “I can’t do that anymore.”

The food distribution starts at 11:30 a.m. on most weekdays. Folks are sitting outside at 7 a.m. to get in, Slaughter said.

One of the pantry’s regular clients is Barbarann Alston, who cares for her elderly mother at home.

“I’m unemployed right now, and that’s why I come here,” she said while choosing bagels, adding she has been coming periodically for about a year. “It’s just a little hard right now.”

The Suffolk Christian Fellowship Center started the food outreach in 2002 on the same block. They started doing a soup kitchen, and then progressed to family-style dinners for holidays.

Slaughter’s husband, Ralph Slaughter, a full-time truck driver, decided they needed to do even more.

“This is not something I ever dreamed of doing, but it’s something, since I have done, I couldn’t think of not doing,” said Lorna Slaughter, who quit her job at an insurance company to run the ministry full-time. “I find myself actually seeking God for ways to meet the need. I just want to do things that are really going to help people.”

The ministry now has three food programs that help folks in need keep their cupboards full at home.

People can come get a package of emergency food once a month. They also can attend the food rescue program as often as they want. The food rescue program “rescues” food that local grocery stores would be about to throw away. They can also get a box of food from a co-op program for a $10 donation.

The food rescue program also includes things like over-the-counter medications and even niceties like bouquets of flowers.

“It brightens people’s day,” Slaughter said.

Food rescue recipients are allowed to choose what they will use from what’s available, rather than be handed a bag of food that they may or may not eat.

For any food that’s left over, there’s a plan. There’s a gentleman who comes and picks it up and distributes it to several elderly people in town. They send it to a local apartment complex for neighbors to pick up. One man who keeps goats even takes the food for his animals.

“Our goal is to keep it out of the trash,” Slaughter said.

The ministry helps with other necessities, too. About 30 moms are signed up for a baby program that allows them to come get diapers, wipes and formula. And the ministry also provides a clothing closet, which Slaughter said has been a “huge success.”

About 300 to 340 people, many of them from working families, come to the food pantry monthly, Slaughter said. She added that food pantries used to be considered emergency supplies of food, but that has changed in recent years.

“People are no longer using food banks for their temporary needs,” Slaughter said. “It is now to supplement their household monthly.”

That means more and more people are coming to the ministry’s food pantry each month.

“This is a hard thing for people to accept sometimes,” Slaughter said. “I can see sometimes a bit of trepidation. I try to go the extra mile when I see first-timers. We always treat people with dignity and respect.”