Dorothy Simonsen, left, and Betty Buffington help stock the Ecumenical Food Pantry. – Tiffany Krupke/Albert Lea Tribune
Dorothy Simonsen, left, and Betty Buffington help stock the Ecumenical Food Pantry. – Tiffany Krupke/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Ecumenical Food Pantry does a lot with a little

Published 11:09am Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Volunteers Dorothy Simonsen and Betty Buffington stay busy keeping the Ecumenical Food Pantry stocked. The pantry, in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church, serves about 200 people a month.

For more than 30 years, the pantry has rotated between churches in town. It has been at its present location since 2005. With rising heating costs, the need for assistance continues to grow.

Simonsen and Buffington volunteer because they enjoy helping people. Simonsen has been volunteering for 12 years.

Simonsen and her husband, Orv, are in charge of ordering food. The food they order comes from Channel 1 Regional Food Bank in Rochester. They also receive food from local donors.

Simonsen said the support from the community has been excellent.

“Everyone has been willing to help in any way they can,” she said.

She said people are appreciative for the food, often thanking the volunteers after every item of food they are given.

Simonsen has enjoyed being with people. After retiring from running her own secretarial business, she looked for ways to get involved. She also volunteers at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

Betty Buffington, left, demonstrates the registration process with the help of Dorothy Simonsen. – Tiffany Krupke/Albert Lea Tribune
Betty Buffington, left, demonstrates the registration process with the help of Dorothy Simonsen. – Tiffany Krupke/Albert Lea Tribune

“I can’t go more than a few days without being around people,” Simonsen said.

Buffington, who is a retired teacher, agreed.

“I enjoy working with people and providing not just food, but nutritional food,” Buffington said.

Buffington was a family and consumer science teacher for the Albert Lea school district for 36 years. Her love of people drives her to volunteer.

“I have met some really fine people,” Buffington said. “They are so appreciative.”

Each person who visits the pantry for the first time has to register at the front desk. A picture ID and a current bill are required. Cloth bags are also encouraged because the pantry does not provide plastic bags.

After registering, volunteers walk people through the food and allow them to select a number of items based on the size of their family. People really enjoy choices, Buffington said.

“We get to know people in the community. Soon we know who gets the brown rice and what kind of bread they prefer,” she said.

When not donating her time, Buffington teaches a human relations class at Riverland Community College.

The Ecumenical Food Pantry is gearing up for March, which is Minnesota FoodShare Month. The food pantry is participating in the statewide campaign. It is the biggest fundraiser of the year. All dollar and food donations stay local, with an opportunity to receive a percentage of a larger pool of money. Cash or food donations can be sent or delivered to 208 Water St., Albert Lea, MN 56007.

The volunteers are thankful for the support they have received this year.

Simonsen and Buffington know that without the generosity of others, the food pantry wouldn’t be running. They hope March will bring enough food to help people in the community who are struggling.

“If it wasn’t for the community, we wouldn’t be here,” Simonsen said. “I’m glad we can help.”

The Ecumenical Food Pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.