We sat down with Pastor Charles Silano who was instrumental in the creation of this organization. Grace Food Pantry has come a long way since its inception in a garage serving maybe 30 families, to where it is now, on Education Way serving 4,700 families a month.
In the early days of the Pantry’s inception, Pastor Silano told us there really wasn’t much in the way of challenges, because there were little to no regulations then. The biggest challenge was getting the food from the food banks, because it was competitive, and it was time consuming because you had to travel to the food banks to pick it up. The food also was not very quality, until the USDA stepped in to distribute foods. That made retail stores back off a little bit, until the food pantries went out to talk to them about it, and ultimately got them back on board due to the food donations being a tax write off for them.
It was at this time that regulations were made that food pantries needed to operate out of a public facility, no more out of your home pantries. This led Pastor Silano to reach out the the school district. Bill Delbrugge was the Superintendent of Schools in Flagler County at that time. Grace Food Pantry approached The Superintendent Delbrugge about doing a food drive a few times a year in the school district. Pastor Silano said, “Well, he did. He went beyond that. He said, ‘Oh, we have nine schools and we’ll do nine food drives a year. We’ll get the kids involved.’ He loved that idea. Then we told him, do you have any space that we could possibly use? He came up with an 800 Sq. Ft. Room in the old school board building for us.”
As the pantry grew, at the time, due to the economic crisis, Superintendent Delbrugge moved Grace Food Pantry into the shop where all of the mowers were stored, which was a 5,000 sq. ft. building, and that is where the drive through part started. They stayed at that building for years until the building had to be used for something else. That is when The Superintendent moved them to the place on Education Way, where they have been for about 12 years now.
We asked Pastor Silano about the current challenges he and the food pantry face today. Pastor Silano talked about how infrastructure is the biggest challenge. They need refrigeration, pallet racking, vehicles, walk-in freezers, etc. The other challenge they can face is volunteers in the summer. “Volunteers for the summer are an enormous challenge because it’s hot, as you know. Most of our volunteers are in my age group and it gets really hot out, so sometimes getting volunteers for the summer is a challenge, but we’ve always trudged through it.”
We talked about some of the ways the community can help Grace Food Pantry with the challenges they face. This is where Pastor Silano talked about their 2nd annual Million Dollar Foodathon, that the radio station helped them put on for the second time, this last July 14th. Last year, during the Million Dollar Foodathon, they raised $125,000 dollars. They believe they raised around $100,000 dollars this year because businesses couldn’t give as much as last year. They did, however, see more people coming to donate this year.
We wanted to know what had been the most memorable interaction between the food pantry and the community. Pastor Silano told us, “We were humming along at probably 3,500 visits a month, that’s a lot of work there. But then Covid hit, and when Covid hit, we didn’t know what we were going to do, we just trusted God for it, because we went from 3,500 visits a month to 6,500 a month. I had to have an increase of food in order to distribute to everybody. We didn’t ask anyone for anything. I just was out there talking to food banks asking if we could up what it is that we get here, because everything was shutting down and things of that nature. We had to look for new sources and in cooperation with the food banking industry. We didn’t know how we were going to pay for the frozen protein and all the other stuff. We didn’t ask for anything, people just started showing up. They saw the line which was about a mile up the road. Verdego had donated the proceeds from a whole weekend. We got a $32,000 plus check from them because they saw the line. I don’t know them, I had never talked to them until they presented the check and people were just coming up in bicycles, driving up, just dropping off checks cause they saw the line. It’s amazing when you have a community that responds when they see a problem, I didn’t even have to ask.”
Pastor Silano and I then talked about what the most rewarding part of working at a food pantry is. He told us how much he loves being able to talk to the people, get their feedback, finding out if they are helping people, being treated right, etc. The volunteers, they get a chance to give back and hear the God Bless Yous from people. They enjoy taking part in something that helps the community.
Pastor Silano then showed us around the work space for the pantry. He showed us all of the bags the volunteers make us that consist of dry goods, 1200 bags or more. He showed us the freezer stocked full of meats and proteins, and how each family gets at least 10 pounds of meats. They also get some dairy and some produce, and Pastor Silano told us they always try to give them the best stuff possible. These shelves, pallets, walk-in freezers and refrigerators, are the infrastructure that Pastor Silano had talked about earlier. They are shopping for a container that they can turn into a freezer or refrigerator, which will help them when it comes to sorting.
Pastor Silano also wanted to state that the Grace Food Pantry is here, it will always be here and it isn’t going anywhere, and that if you know anyone that needs help to let them know Grace Food Pantry is there for them. You can call Grace Food Pantry at 386-586-2653, or you can message them on their website here.