- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - For 26 years, the always smiling Don Klein has had the same routine on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Just before 7 a.m., the 82-year-old Army veteran is the first to arrive at the pale yellow home that houses Oak Park Food Pantry behind First Christian Church on Second Avenue. He unlocks the door, turns on the lights and gets the pot of coffee ready for the five other men who will join him in handing out bag after bag of groceries to needy families within the parish.

One recent Tuesday, with coffee cup in hand, his routine was no different. It was, however, increasingly bittersweet. With each bag of groceries handed out that morning, there was also a note announcing the pantry will close its doors Dec. 22.

“The Lord says feed my children, and this is something I wanted to do,” Klein said on why he has volunteered so many years.

Klein said the pantry was originally the idea of the late Sonny Finley, who opened the facility in November 1988 in conjunction with St. Margaret Catholic Church. From there the pantry joined forces with First Christian Church and six others.

“But since that time, Oak Park Methodist Church went out of business, First Presbyterian Church combined with First Christian Church, Fourth Avenue Church of God moved out and 12th Street Baptist closed down,” Klein said. “(First Christian Church) is selling its property, and we have no place to go.”

Klein said much has changed since the pantry’s doors first opened.

“When we started, we might have had five, six, seven families, and some days we wouldn’t have any come in” he said. “We’d get a 100-pound bag of rice and it would last forever. Now I need 700 to 1,000 pounds to feed them all. In a month, we are average 130 to 135 families. We’ve also been up to 152 and as high as 175 families in a month.”

He said grocery bags handed out typically include two cans of green beans, one can of sweet peas, two cans of Vienna sausages, a jar of jelly, one can of mixed beans, two cans of corn, one can of tuna fish, two cans of tomato sauce, a box of spaghetti, a box of macaroni and a jar of peanut butter.

“And for this time of the year, we also have a can of mixed vegetables, corn bread mix, biscuit mix, rice, a bag of black-eyed peas, a bag of pinto beans, yams, a can of cranberries, a four-pack of toilet paper and a bar of soap,” Klein said.

Each family will also receive a turkey.

Klein said the pantry was originally designed to cater to families within the area of Gerstner Memorial Boulevard, Broad Street, Lake Street and McNeese Street.

“We’ve gotten lax as far as income,” he said. “When we started it was $1,000 or less, but here lately we haven’t really turned anybody down.”

He said monetary and food donations will still be accepted over the next month so that the families they serve will receive as much help as possible before the pantry closes.

Paul Heard, who has volunteered at the pantry for about a year, said the pantry uses every dollar donated to feed the hungry.

“We take 25- and 50-pound bags of rice and break them down into sacks and put them in baggies to stretch every dollar,” he said.

While Klein kept tabs on the grocery bags going out Tuesday morning, his grandson, Joseph Bang, separated donated canned goods from Phillips 66, T.S. Cooley Elementary and St. Margaret Catholic schools.

“It’s a really good cause, and there are tons of people in Lake Charles who are underprivileged and can’t afford to feed themselves even though they’re working really hard,” said Bang, a senior at St. Louis Catholic High School.

Klein said families needing assistance after the pantry closes can call Christian World, 475-0157; Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 480-0054; Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, 491-0644; the Salvation Army, 433-4155; Manna Ministries, 802-3729; Shepherd’s Inn Outreach, 433-1517; Glad Tidings, 474-6080; Catholic Charities, 439-7436; Greater St. Mary Baptist Church, 494-7945; or New Sunlight Baptist Church, 436-8965.

Klein said his work won’t stop when the pantry closes.

“My wife and I are going to go find the homeless and bring them sandwiches and biscuits in the morning,” he said. “A captain with the police force said, ‘That’s good. I’d like to help with that, too, but when y’all do it call me and I’ll send an officer out with y’all to take you where they’re at.’

“We saw some sleeping under bridges and our hearts went out to them and we want to see if we can help them there,” he said. “And we’ll go to a nursing home and find somebody who needs help. We’re going to do something.”


Information from: American Press, https://www.americanpress.com

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