KINGSLEY — Within two nights of work a group of men armed with saws lined the walls of a modest 8-by-10 room in Kingsley Baptist Church with handmade wooden shelves.
Now the shelves are stacked high with colorful boxes of cereal, pasta products, canned vegetables and soups, and other household items like toilet paper, shampoo and toothpaste. The Kingsley Baptist Church food pantry is officially open for business.
The pantry started during a Bible study for the church's men's ministry, volunteer and church member John Harrison said. The men at the study wanted to do more for their community and decided a food pantry was the perfect way to help local families.
"It was something tangible and easily doable right away," Harrison said, "It makes people get off the sideline and get in the game, putting faith in action."
Business was slow at the pantry's official opening yesterday, but Harrison expects things to pick up as word about the chance to collect two bags of groceries free of charge spreads to families throughout the Kingsley community.
"That kind of word travels fast," Harrison said.
There certainly is a demand for food pantries in the Grand Traverse region, said Brandon Seng, director of Food Rescue, a Goodwill Industries organization that picks up and delivers soon-to-expire food from grocery stores, restaurants and farms to 53 pantries in northern Michigan.
The number of individuals served at food pantries in Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Antrim and Benzie counties has increased 82 percent in the last four years.
Pantries in the five counties served roughly 320,000 people in 2011. That number jumped to more than 381,000 people in 2012.
Seng said the demand for food pantries continues to grow in 2013 based on several factors. Unemployment in the area remains relatively high. Food prices are rising. So is the cost of fuel for heating homes.
"Folks are looking at their family budget and a stack of bills and deciding, 'alright, we've got to keep our heat on,'" Seng said.
The opening of new food pantries like the one at Kingsley Baptist Church helps alleviate high demand. Seng said new pantries should look to work with established programs like the Northwest Food Coalition, whose member agencies serve more than 22,000 meals each month, to learn the tried-and-true practices of successful pantries.
"When folks count on you to feed their family, it is so much responsibility," Seng said.
Kingsley pantry organizers already are talking about joining the coalition. For now, though, they plan to expand slowly. The pantry will be open from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.
"If it grows so big we have a lot of people in line we might have to change that," Harrison said. "Who knows where this can lead in the future."