BEMENT — The Bement Food Pantry is used to helping those in need.
But when the facility suffered its own crisis, it was the community that gave back in a big way to help keep the pantry's doors open.
As recently as October, the pantry shelves held fewer than 150 cans of food, barely enough to provide for the 15 families a week that use the independent facility housed in the First Christian Church. Increased need and decreased donations had already prompted pantry officials to reduce distribution from four to two times per month.
Several local organizations have responded with food drives, including Cim-Tek Filtration, Bement's largest employer. On Tuesday, Cim-Tek employees wheeled six grocery carts of food and a forklift full of paper products to the pantry.
"I'm just overwhelmed. What can I say," said an ecstatic Mary Manalisay, who manages the pantry. "When you go from not having enough to make a bag or box for a family to all of this, it's just overwhelming. I can't use any other word."
Donations have been steady from community groups and churches for the past three weeks, expanding inventory from one room to four in the education wing of the church. Nearly everyone has chipped in, from the high school Family, Career and Community Leaders of America group going door-to-door and collecting 1,600 items, to a pledge by JTA Foods to donate a can for each point the Cerro Gordo/Bement football team scores in its current IHSA playoff run.
"Since we started that, we've got four other people who are matching our donation," said Tricia Fritz, who owns the grocery store with her husband, Jimmy. The high-scoring Broncos have done their part with 86 points in two playoff contests, which means over 400 more items for the food pantry when the matching donations are taken into account.
Cim-Tek administrative assistant Ruth Manint has helped coordinate the community food drive and said she wishes there had been a food bank in Bement when her family hit rough times in the mid-1970s.
"(Husband) Jerry and I have been there. We know the other side of this, and it's something very near and dear to my heart, and I thought 'we can't let these people go hungry,'" said Manint. "The whole community's gotten involved."
That includes elementary school students, who were challenged to donate at least 300 items. Because they exceeded that goal, physical education teacher Ryan Brittenham this Friday will follow through on his promise to be duct-taped to the gym wall.
And the list goes on, from apples coming via Wolfe Orchard to a van and truckload of items from St. Philomena and St. Michael Catholic churches in Monticello and Bement. In addition, the Piatt County Ecumenical Food Pantry in Monticello donated some of its food to Bement's pantry.
Manalisay said they have yet to turn anyone away at the pantry, but that when the cupboard was nearly bare there were thoughts it would close.
"I tell you what, we were definitely in danger of closing," said Manalisay, adding that the need for their service has not eased. For example, she noted that at one distribution in August, 30 families showed up and the pantry fed some 86 people.
Cim-Tek is still taking donations of non-perishable food, which can be taken to their office at 201 N. Champaign St., Bement, between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.
The food pantry, at 164 E. Wing St, Bement, is currently open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month.