Decades ago, Brownwood’s St. John’s Episcopal Church began a small food pantry that gave groceries to a handful of locals once a week. The ministry grew slowly—when Jane Devery got involved ten years ago, she operated the pantry by herself for a couple dozen residents each Wednesday.
    Last week the pantry set a new record, serving 91 individuals with about ten volunteers.
    St. John’s member Gwen Eberhart said the pantry’s numbers have grown considerably since she began helping out.
    “When I first came here ten years ago, we did maybe 30 people a week,” Eberhart said.
    Eberhart said people use the pantry for a variety of reasons. Some have yet to establish residency in Brownwood, which makes them ineligible for services at other charities. Some are trying to get through a tight week after taking a sick day or incurring an unforeseen expense.
    “There are people that come through that we see weekly,” she said, “and then we get people who maybe just come once.”
    On Wednesday, the St. John’s volunteers were stationed behind long tables that held toiletries, canned goods, protein-rich foods and fresh produce as residents formed a line and selected items from each table. Eberhart said the produce was a special addition this week, donated by the Food Bank of West Central Texas in Abilene. She held up a bag of vegetables.
    “Have you ever seen a cabbage this huge?” she said.
    Eberhart said pantry volunteer Tom Gray had driven to the food bank Wednesday morning to collect the 3,200 pounds of food.
    “After I came here is when they started getting food from the Food Bank of West Central Texas,” Eberhart said. “Before that it was always retail. They’d just go to Walmart and buy food.”
    Eberhart said that the food pantry was funded by a monthly offering, donations from St. John’s members and the greater community and even by a local yoga teacher who donated a portion of her proceeds.
    She said she enjoyed helping the pantry to stay active during retirement and spread God’s love.
    “Before we start every time we do this we pray to be a blessing,” Eberhart said. “I feel very fortunate to have the time to do it and the means to do it.”
    Cathy Devore and her five children volunteer at the pantry each week even though, like several other volunteers, they are not St. John’s members. Devore said she home-schools her children four days a week and sets Wednesdays aside to help with the ministry.
    “In the Bible, Jesus said that He knows those that feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” Devore said when asked about why she volunteers. “This is, to me, very much at the heart of what Christianity should be, is taking care of others in your community … There’s not a lot in the Bible when you’ve got Jesus actually saying, ‘Do this.’ When He says ‘do this,’ if you’re going to claim Christianity then you better be doing it.”
    Devore said her family helped out with setting up, double-bagging items and unloading when a food truck came in. She said the morning’s 3,200 pound haul was particularly labor-intensive.
    “Today we earned our salary,” she joked.
    Eberhart recalled a particular volunteer who had helped with unloading that morning.
    “Two of the people who came to help were people that I met here several years ago,” she explained. “They came in for help. I helped him find a job, and he’s gone on and been successful at it, and doesn’t need help any more. He donated money to us, and he helps to come and unload food.”
    St. John’s provides select groceries to local low-income residents every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in its sanctuary.