Just poppin' in to help: Ruby’s Pantry provides for many in Perham
Ruby's Pantry in Perham is a pop-up pantry that not only provides food to anyone who wants to take part, but it also gives back to other nonprofits in the community.
"We return about $5,000 a year to the area, and leftover food goes to the local food shelf, The Refuge and The Compassion House," said Dave Pawlowski, Site Leader for Ruby's Pantry in Perham.
After volunteering at the Menahga site, Pawlowski and his wife approached the founder about starting a site in Perham in 2013.
"Two generous donations from Arvig and KLN, in addition to donations from civic groups out of Dent and Perham allowed us to purchase the materials we needed to get started," Pawlowski said. "We even had surplus money so we were able to immediately give back to the community." Programs they have donated to include the Backpack program, the Boys and Girls Club and Kinship.
Ruby's Pantry is a nonprofit organization that began in Wisconsin and has spread across Minnesota with about 60 locations to-date. It's a division of Home and Away Ministries, Inc, a nonprofit founded by Lyn Sahr. Pawlowski said the story of how the organization got its start is that the founders went to pick up toys to distribute to needy children, but were accidentally given food. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, they took the food and gave it to a family in need. When they went back the following month, the same thing happened, and the month after that, and the month after that. "Eventually they just decided this is what they were meant to do," Pawlowski said.
There are no income or resident requirements, and Pawlowski said they ask for a $20 donation to cover costs, but no one is turned away. That $20 is actually worth about $100 in a grocery store.
The pantry is held on the fourth Saturday of the month at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Volunteers arrive early to help set up so everything runs smoothly when the guests arrive.
"We try to make it as easy as possible, people can pre-register before they get here. While they are waiting they can have coffee and cookies; when they go through the line the volunteers help, and then we have volunteers outside to help load their boxes into their car. We want to make the whole experience as pleasant as possible," Pawlowski said.
To make that experience seamless, they could always use a few more volunteers to assist with the approximately 260 guests that come through each month.
Volunteer Tracy Brown has helped out for a few years now.
"It's a great opportunity to do something for others and do something positive," she said.
High school students can get volunteer credits for volunteering, and Pawlowski said they always appreciate a little muscle to help out with some of the heavier pallets of food and also to help guests load their shares into cars.
Another part of the pantry's mission is giving to families in crisis.
"If they lose their home to fire, have a major medical situation where they need fuel or food, we would like to help meet their basic needs," Pawlowski said. "Our mission is to give people a hand up."
Pawlowski said his favorite part is when he gets to go out and talk to all the guests and interact, then they have a prayer and take prayer requests.
"The people are so grateful," he said. "They tell me how welcome this is and how it supplements their pantry."