By BECKY KISER
First Call For Help in Hays is now a member of the Kansas Food Bank and expects its first shipment from the Wichita organization next month.
The change came about unexpectedly.
The St. Joseph Church Food Pantry, a member of the Kansas Food Bank, had been giving some of its extra food from the food bank to First Call For Help, which did not yet belong to the group.
The two local non-profits recently found out that was against the Kansas Food Bank rules.
"They didn't know. We didn't know, and we wanted to get that fixed as soon as possible," said Macey Pfeifer, First Call For Help executive director.
After a two-month application process and a facility and food storage inspection, First Call For Help was accepted by the Kansas Food Bank.
"We thought it would meet our clients' needs better to be members of the Kansas Food Bank," Pfeifer said.
"They're really good at stretching the dollars that we spend. For example, a box of cereal at the grocery store would cost you two to five dollars a box. We can get it from the food bank for maybe a quarter less."
Although there is no membership fee, the change means First Call For Help is now paying for food it will distribute to its clients, something that was not included in the budget. Membership requires a quarterly order.
"It's been a conversation with our board," Pfeifer said.
She's applied for a grant from the Heartland Community Foundation. Financial contributions are still coming from individuals and businesses, and a recent fundraiser by a Fort Hays State University Leadership 310 student group raised more than $2,500 for the food bank.
All that comes to a current total of about $4,000 to spend on food purchases at the Kansas Food Bank.
The inaugural Kansas Food Bank order is 600 pounds for which First Call will pay a $15 delivery fee.
Pfeifer thinks the food donations the center regularly receives, along with the food that is ordered, will keep it supplied.
"We do get a lot of food donations. Businesses and individuals are really great within the community," she said.
First Call For Help has had to temporarily stop handing out its food boxes at times because its supply is so low.
But people reach out just at the right times.
"An individual messaged us just the other day asking us what was needed to get us through December, and they brought every single item that we requested," Pfeifer said.
A business recently volunteered to do a food drive outside of Dillons grocery store, handing out request lists to shoppers and wound up with two truckloads of food to donate.
The Kansas Food Bank has its own software system used by members to track what it buys, how much and which clients it serves.
The free computer program will replace the one currently used by First Call for which it pays a fee.
The Kansas Food Bank semi-truck delivery will be made to the Community Assistance Center, 1108 Oak. The parking area around First Call For Help, a few blocks away at 607 E. 13th, is too small to accommodate a semi.
The food will have to be transported between the two facilities by a couple of smaller vehicles.
"Clients get these boxes of cereal or mac and cheese and they don't have a jug of milk in their refrigerator to make it," Pfeifer said.
"They come in asking for milk, and we may or may not have powdered milk packages. It just depends if someone has donated them and when.
"I think this will be easier to actually give clients what they're requesting. We'll know we have this much of this item coming in."
She also knows the foods coming from the Kansas Food Bank will be consistently healthier than what might be donated.
"They're switching over all their canned fruits and vegetables to a healthier choice, no added sugar and less sodium."
First Call For Help is still taking food donations from the community.
"They're just so sporadic and we don't know when they're coming in," Pfeifer said.
"I think with the Kansas Food Bank, we're going to be able to tell donors and individuals that we need items other than food, such as paper towels and toilet paper or things for our hygiene stash, such as shampoo and deodorant," Pfeifer said.
First Call For Help is funded by the United Way of Ellis County, the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance and the City of Hays. It has received grants from the Heartland Community Foundation and the Robert and Patricia Schmidt Foundation.