Struggling food pantry seeking non-profit status

Almost two years ago, Candy Waite said God called her and her husband, Jeff, into a special ministry.

The couple opened Gospel Mission Food Pantry in September 2011 at 309 Lancaster St.

“God called me and my husband,” Candy said. “The massage was clear – to feed them spiritually as well as physically.”

However, the future of that Harmar food pantry is now in question as the Waites continue to try to get a 501(c)3 nonprofit status for the facility.

Some organizations and individuals can’t or won’t donate until the 501(c)3 status is established, Candy said.

For example, Washington County Harvest of Hope, based in Marietta, cannot deal with or supply food to Gospel Mission without that nonprofit status, said Executive Director Karen Kumpf.

Because Harvest of Hope is a 501(c)3, Kumpf said the state requires her agency to deal only with other nonprofits with that status. Harvest of Hope serves 10 area food pantries.

“They are the only pantry we can’t serve,” Kumpf said.

Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio and a Marietta resident, has tried to help expedite the food pantry’s request. It then went to the office of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

No one from Portman’s office was available for comment Friday afternoon.

“I’ve visited the Gospel Mission Food Pantry, met with Jeff and Candy Waite, and I know the good work they are doing on behalf of our community,” Johnson said in a statement Friday. “I’m now hearing that their future is in doubt because of IRS inaction, and that is unacceptable. I have sent several letters to the IRS asking that they expedite the Gospel Mission Food Pantry’s application for a 501(c)3 so they may better serve the area. They operate solely on donations, so their application is critical.”

According to the website, 501(3)c applications, are separated into four categories: 1. Those that can be immediately approved based on information provided; 2. Those that need minor additional information; 3. Those submitted on obsolete forms or that do not include items specified on the checklist of requirements; 4. Those that require development.

Applications in the first three categories usually will receive some action within 90 days. In the fourth category, however, the applicant will be contacted once the application is assigned to an exempt organizations agent for further review or more information. These applications could experience a significant “wait time” before being assigned to an agent.

As of Friday, the IRS reported applications received in April 2012 were still being assigned.

Certain applications are held in reserve to be investigated by EO technical in Washington D.C. Those can include cases without precedent or requiring interpretation of tax law.

“Unfortunately, this appears to be just one more example of the IRS’s selective approval of 501(c)3 nonprofit status for certain groups,” Johnson said Friday. “I hope this application is not being slow-walked because the Gospel Mission Food Pantry does not receive federal money and is religiously affiliated. I will continue to work to ensure that the Gospel Mission Food Pantry’s application is reviewed in a timely matter.”

The pantry is low on food and in need of donations or money, said Candy Waite. Wednesdays are pantry day, and after five pantry days in May, the site has helped 1,594 people and has many empty shelves.

Waite also said people tend to visit the pantry when they see her car outside. That is especially true for children. The youngsters who haven’t had much to eat will visit, and Candy or one of her 20 volunteers will prepare soup or noodles for them.

In the meantime, Candy said they wait and stretch everything as far as they can. She divides staples such as cereal or rice into portions and packs them into sandwich bags.

Items such as laundry detergent or dish washing liquid- items not included in the Ohio Food Assistance Program (formerly know as food stamps) – will be portioned out in used pill bottles. Toilet paper is distributed by the roll (usually two per recipient) rather than a whole package.

“I am chasing every rabbit I know to chase to keep the food pantry going to help those in need,” Candy said.

Despite the shortages on the pantry shelves and freezers, closing doesn’t seem to be an option for the Waites.

“I’m going to keep going with it,” Candy said. “I know my God will supply all my needs.”

She said she is confident donations will pick up with the nonprofit status is resolved.

Candy said the volunteers at the mission will continue to help anyone and hand out Bibles to those who come in for help. It’s not required recipients take the Bibles, but the food pantry offers them as part of its mission.

In other parts of Washington County, food pantries also continue to struggle to serve all the families that need help.

Ruth Griffin, 75, is the treasurer of the Lower Salem Food Pantry, 102 Main St.

Griffin said the pantry is open the third Wednesday of each month and about 145 families received assistance in May.

Typically, that number swells to more than 160 during fall, winter and spring. The food pantry operates on donations, grants, help from three or four churches and an annual supper of homemade noodles organizers hope will bring in $6,500 to help get them through the winter, Griffin said.

Lisa Stone, who has been president of the Belpre Food Pantry since November, said the site handles an average of 90 to 100 families each month with a variety of services including food, utility assistance and a thrift shop.

“We seem to be very busy the third and fourth weeks of the month,” Stone said. “They are running out (of their monthly checks) sooner.”

Candy Waite said the pantry tends to get a boost during the fall’s deer season. Some hunters donate all or part of their kills to Gospel Mission Food Pantry.

“Amen,” Candy said. “That’s a joyful time. That is such a blessing.”

It’s one of the few times she said the food pantry has meat in its freezers during the year.

“My prayer is to always be here for the one person God sent here, for that person who is entering the Gospel Mission Food Pantry’s doors,” she said.

To contact the pantry, call 350-4417.