UMD Food Pantry and Clothes Closet working to make life better

After a rush of families exit the clothing closet, a volunteer puts some shirts back on the racks. (Staff photo by Christina Herring)

With winter in full swing, Urban Ministries of Durham is extending a helping hand to families experiencing homelessness and poverty in North East Central Durham.

According to Bryan Gilmer, the director of marketing and development, Urban Ministries of Durham is a result of a merger of three previous non-profits and one of those was called the United Methodist Mission Society established by the Methodist Church, which offered a food pantry and closet service to people experiencing poverty.

Bryan Gilmer, Urban Ministries of Durham director of marketing and development, assists volunteers with packaging food. (Staff photo by Christine Herring)

Bryan Gilmer, Urban Ministries of Durham director of marketing and development, assists volunteers with packaging food. (Staff photo by Christine Herring)

In 2001, that service merged into UMD, which had previously operated the building with the St. Philips Community Café, which is now the UMD community café.

The other agency that was merged in was the Community Shelter for Hope, which is the homeless shelter which is now operated on the other side of the block, Gilmer said.

The clothing closet and food pantry has been going for a little over 30 years, serving 26-28 families a day. Gilmer said the clothing closet is made up of donated clothes that are carefully sorted and picked out with things “we would wear ourselves or give our own family.”

“We really try to focus on, so for men, stuff like khakis and jeans are great. Something you could wear to a job interview or to do a day’s work in a retail job for instance, are perfect.”

Gilmer said they are always short on men’s clothes because “we have so many single men who are clients and because dudes don’t give up their clothes as readily.”

Families come in for service and after they check in in the lobby, they can come and shop, and Gilmer said they can get 10 items per visit for members of their household.

While families are shopping, volunteers are working hard to package up canned goods and foods into plastic bags.

Gilmer said that the families have a few choices about the foods. “If they say we really won’t eat canned corn, we might substitute something else in.”

They also have refrigerators and for the first time, they have started to get more fresh produce. Gilmer said it’s not profitable for the area farm to pay people to go harvest the very last little bit of crops, so they do what is known as gleaning, where volunteer groups go and harvest the rest and bring it into the food pantry. They get things like kale, collard greens, and sweet potatoes.

Gilmer said that it’s also a time of the year when the community is really generous with donations to the Food Pantry and Clothing closet. “We know that people will donate socks, underwear, backpacks and items like that that we can both use here and send home with people from the clothing closet and food pantry,” Gilmer said.

“Things like that are all wonderful things that people are conscience of donating this time of the year to help their neighbors.”

The most needed items change over time, but as of now, the items needed most are canned meat and peanut butter and things with high protein, according to Melanie Stolp, the woman in charge of the food pantry and clothing closet. “But right now we need a little bit of everything,” Stolp said.

They also need things like deodorant, soap, washcloths, toothbrush and toothpaste, in order to make hygiene kits for everybody. “We’ll give them out if they don’t have these items but we really prefer to offer the entire package,” Stolp said. “So we have enough stuff to make hygiene kits right now, but we’re trying to complete them with those.”

The food pantry and clothing closet has also added a diaper distribution as part of the distribution center for the diaper bank of North Carolina. “We get the diapers wrapped in packs and we give out one per baby every 30 days,” Stolp said.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s something. I think we’re the only place that gives out diapers without needing a home visit. Other places require a home follow-up, we just require a child’s ID, such as Medicaid, social security.”

The Food Pantry and Clothing Closet opens from 9-11 a.m. on Monday – Thursday, and signups are limited to just 26 families a day. Space is extremely limited, and ID for adults and children is required.

Donations can be dropped off from 9 am-6 pm Monday through Friday and 10 am-4 pm on Saturdays on 410 Liberty Street, Durham, NC 27701.