GASTONIA, N.C. — Early Saturday morning before the sun was up, cars were lined up outside Mount Zion Restoration Church in Gastonia. They weren’t there for church, but to receive much-needed food.
For the past 17 years, Pastor Rodney Freeman has operated the Bountiful Blessings Food Pantry. But because of the pandemic, the need for food donations has soared pushing the church's pantry operation to the limit. Sometimes cars start lining up eight hours before the pantry doors open.
"They'll line up at midnight or before midnight just so they can be first in line," Freeman said. "And that just tells you the need. Some of them are willing to sleep in a car all night long just to get a box of food."
On a cold and rainy Saturday morning, the pantry volunteers handed out food to feed 2,250 people.
Bountiful Blessings Food Pantry is a 501c (3) nonprofit organization that has played a vital role in addressing hunger and food insecurity within Gaston County. Their purpose is to make certain that the citizens of Gaston County have access to healthy foods.
Instead of pews full of people, the pews inside the church are now filled with boxes of food. The church has become a distribution point for people in the community.
Help WCNC Charlotte make a difference in Gastonia by donating to Bountiful Blessings.
The pantry serves not only those in Gaston County but others in need from the surrounding communities.
“We had a gentleman come all the way from Monroe, North Carolina," Freeman said.
WCNC Charlotte anchor Fred Shropshire visited the pantry to talk to Freeman about the increased demand. Freeman told Shropshire last spring's pandemic shutdown sent demand soaring from 300 people a week to more than 3,700. Many of them had never sought assistance before.
"You could tell the shame. You could tell the embarrassment. The conversation that I've had with many of them is, 'I never thought I'd have to be in a food pantry line,’” Freeman said.
Most of the food distributed at Bountiful Blessings comes from Second Harvest Food Bank.
But the church is pushed to the limit seven days a week. Due to the demand of people seeking help during the pandemic, the pantry had to purchase additional equipment, which dwindled its resources. Volunteers are now forced to use the church’s vehicles to pick up other items from a nearby Food Lion grocery store.
"Right now they're using our daycare van and we need that and so it’s kind of like trying to balance out when they can go and when they can't go," Freeman explained.
In 2019, WCNC Charlotte anchor Sarah French talked to Freeman about the good they were doing in the community by opening the food pantry, a project that started from humble beginnings.
"I'll never forget the first day of the food pantry," Freeman said. "We had about 12 or 13 cans. Two people showed up."
The operation has now grown into one that gets thousands of pounds of food a week. In 2019, they raised enough money to purchase a much-needed refrigerated truck to help serve the community.
In early January, a power line fell on their new refrigerated truck and it was destroyed by fire.
With help from the United Way of Gaston County and the COVID-19 relief fund, Bountiful Blessings was able to get a replacement.
But the pantry continues to be in desperate need of funds to support feeding the hungry. With the need so great, WCNC Charlotte has teamed up with the United Way of Gaston County to help raise much-needed funds.
WCNC Charlotte is committed to making a difference in the communities we serve. Here's what we'll do: Each month we'll tell you about a non-profit making a difference. This month it's Bountiful Blessings. If you know of a non-profit that should be highlighted for making a difference, email us.
Here is the contact information for Bountiful Blessings. Reach out to them if you'd like to donate or if you are in need of a donation yourself:
Bountiful Blessings Food Pantry
2311 Crescent Lane
Gastonia, N.C. 28052