- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) - It might be serendipitous that Bruce Foster White found a niche in volunteer work as grocery manager for the Food Bank of Greenwood County, spending weekends stocking shelves, checking inventory and ordering food.

White, a retired Lander University mathematics professor and a former department division chairman, grew up around the independent grocery store business.

“My mother’s family owned grocery stores in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,” White said. “She had four brothers in Oklahoma City and each one had a grocery store. I started working for an uncle when I was 16, doing everything but working in the meat shop. The logical place for me to eventually volunteer would be with the food bank.”

White was on faculty at Lander 1976-2003. He began volunteering with the Food Bank of Greenwood County about nine years ago. The idea was suggested by his longtime Greenwood and Lander friend, Bettie Horne.

Horne said not only did White take one or two days most weekends to stock shelves, he also monitored inventory to keep shelves filled before they emptied out and calculated the amounts of food needed.

“When donations got low, he pulled money from his own pocket,” Horne said. “He has a big heart and the work ethic of John Calvin.”

About five months after he began volunteering, White said his wife died.

“It was kind of a catharsis for me to come in on the weekends,” White said. “For more than eight years, every weekend I was in town, I spent at the food bank.”

White is just one of more than 100 dedicated volunteers who help distribute food.

“When you help take a family’s food out to their car, they are extremely thankful,” White said.

Barbara Turnburke, Food Bank of Greenwood County executive director, said White and his expertise are tremendously helpful.

“We depend on him a lot,” Turnburke said. “He knows exactly how much money we need to come in to buy the food that we need to feed the hungry.”

More than 195,000 pounds of food were distributed by the Food Bank of Greenwood County in 2013, Turnburke said.

Supplies for the Food Bank of Greenwood County primarily come from items ordered through Golden Harvest, a regional nonprofit food distribution organization, and donations from grocery stores and individuals.

“We typically order food from Golden Harvest once a month,” White said. “Some things, we can get for a lower price than we would pay at a grocery store, and we can get some things free through the United States Department of Agriculture.”

White said the Food Bank of Greenwood County has, on average, been providing food to 400 families per month. Clients must be referred by an agency and clients may only come to the food bank four times per year.

The Food Bank of Greenwood County is typically open five days per week and is an emergency food pantry. It provides a basic one-week grocery package to people referred by local agencies.

The amount of food distributed depends on the number of people in a household.

“It’s not uncommon to get slammed the last of the month,” White said. “We may see 35 to 40 families per day. I often work on a crew to distribute food the fifth Tuesday and Wednesday of a month.”

White said the grocery budget for the food bank is between $4,000 to $5,000 per month, with some funding coming from United Way, but he strives to make sure dollars go as far as they can.

“Soup is a great thing to distribute, especially if it is hearty, with vegetables and protein,” White said. “However, there have been times I’ve had to cut out vegetable beef soup or beef stew because those items tend to be more expensive. Four to five years ago, our food budget was more than twice that, but there are a number of things I stopped buying to reduce it — sugar, flour, cooking oil, juice, pineapple, spaghetti and instant potatoes. I felt like I had to choose between instant potatoes and grits. If you gave everybody both potatoes and grits, that’s roughly $3 per family just for those two items.”

White said it can be perilous for food pantries to not keep a surplus of goods stocked.

“We have come close to running out before,” White said. “When we are fortunate enough to get monetary donations as well as food, we can increase our monthly food budget a little bit and buy some items that tend to be more expensive. Did you know canned fruit costs twice as much as canned vegetables? Canned meats and pastas also tend to be pricier than other items.

“People in Greenwood are generous with monetary donations and food drives,” White said. “Two years ago, 20,000 pounds of food was collected for us through the letter carriers’ food drive in May. From June to August can be lean for our shelves. There’s nothing really more basic than having enough food, is there?”

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