Turning away hungry people wrenches LaKeya Stewart’s heart.
As the executive director of Downtown Cooperative Church Ministries, she faces that painful decision every day as donations dwindle at the largest food pantry in Richmond County.
Operating under a dire financial situation with no relief in sight, the organization considered shutting its doors at the end of 2011.
A small surge in donations helped save the ministry, but additional support is needed to prevent another likely deficit this year.
“We need more help. We either need more individuals to make small donations or we need more businesses and churches and corporations to make larger donations,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t take a lot to feed a family here.”
Fourteen partner churches support the Downtown Cooperative Church Ministries food pantry on Eighth Street.
Under tightened budgets, partner church donations dropped 25 percent in 2011.
A $12,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the CSRA helped sustain the organization throughout last year, but the ministry wasn’t eligible for the grant again.
Grants from Walmart, Bi-Lo, the Junior League of Augusta and the Creel-Harison Foundation have provided $6,000 this year.
Even so, if donations continue at the current rate, the food pantry could have a $20,000 deficit by year’s end.
In an effort to bolster financial support, the organization is recruiting more area churches to join the partnership.
When founded in 1978, the group focused on downtown churches serving downtown residents.
Now that plan is not feasible if they want to continue operation, said Margaret Brubaker, an executive board member and member
of St. John United Methodist Church.
“It’s amazing to me, having been affiliated with this organization since 1979, how many people in the CSRA are clueless that we exist,” Brubaker said.
Because of funding shortages, the pantry limits its service to the first 70 clients to line up each weekday.
“We used to serve whoever came in the door,” Stewart said. “At the busiest time, that was 80 to 100 clients per day.”