While the Grand Marshal of any parade, including the Winnfield Christmas parade, is usually an individual, this year the parade sponsor, Winnfield’s Kiwanis Club, has broken with the usual tradition and honored an organization by naming it as the Grand Marshal of the annual parade. Kiwanis selected as this year’s Grand Marshal the Winn Community Food Pantry, which has been supporting lower income people in Winn Parish with nutritious groceries for almost 40 years.

The WC Food Pantry as it exists today is a community-wide Christian ministry sustained financially by numerous Christian congregations and individuals, as well as local businesses, which gives groceries each month to low-income families in Winn Parish. It was started, however, in 1983 by members of Winnfield’s First Presbyterian church who studied the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, by Ronald J. Sider, originally published in 1977 and now in its third revision.

Study of the book revealed startling information about world poverty and the huge disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots,” serious Biblical study highlighting God’s identification with the poor and the “casting down” of the rich, and explanation of the many causes of poverty and food insecurity well beyond personal choice and irresponsibility. The author of the book ultimately challenges Christians to lead by example in helping the poor.

In the course of discussing ways to help alleviate food insecurity for the poor, such as providing food pantries where food is distributed free of charge, someone in the class said, “We can do that,” and our local food pantry was born! Contributions were collected, the health unit was consulted about what to put in the bags to be distributed for nutritional value, and the food pantry opened its doors in November 1983!

Initially, patrons of the food pantry could pick up their bag of groceries every other month. Members of the Presbyterian church bagged the groceries and assisted the patrons. Besides the minister of the church and his wife, church members Tom and Beth Wood were essential volunteers who handled the finances and helped with organization of the ministry.

Mrs. Ruth Beville became involved in management of the ministry after she retired from teaching school. When Mrs. Beville was not able to continue with management of the enterprise, she was succeeded by Mrs. Sara Shell, who by that time was also retired from teaching.

In the meantime, over the years, as word went out about the ministry and more persons became interested in helping, financial contributions came from others besides the Presbyterian congregation, including other local churches, individuals and businesses. The ministry was able to increase distribution to once every four weeks per household from once every two months. Volunteers to assist with packing the groceries, handling the paperwork, and distributing the bags each week began to come from every congregation throughout the parish.

When Mrs. Shell was no longer able to handle the management, the torch was passed to Mrs. Beville’s son Kiah and Mrs. Shell’s daughter Jan Shell Beville, who are to this day the mainstays of the organization. Also very involved in recruitment and coordination of volunteers is Mrs. Jane Purser, a member of the Presbyterian congregation, whose participation in the ministry increased upon her retirement from the school system. From processing financial donations to purchasing and transporting the standard groceries placed in the bags to coordinating volunteers to handling paperwork and recordkeeping, these three persons have kept the ministry running smoothly for many years.

In addition to the Christian congregations which support the Winn Community Food Pantry, the Winn Parish 4H clubs throughout the parish, and other youth organizations sponsored by the schools, have provided phenomenal support for the food pantry by holding canned food drives multiple times throughout the year. For many years now, Jordan Egg Farms has donated many dozens of eggs to the food pantry each week.

Any resident of Winn Parish whose income is below the federal poverty guidelines is eligible to receive help from the Winn Community Food Pantry. The food pantry is open to distribute groceries every Thursday from 12:30 to 2:30, except when a major holiday falls on Thursday. In those weeks, groceries are distributed during the same hours on the preceding Tuesday. Each session of the food pantry distribution begins with prayers of thanks and petitions to the Lord. During the nearly year and a half of lockdowns and restrictions on public gatherings in 2020 and 2021, the Lord kept the donations rolling in and the groceries going out.

The food pantry is supported solely by private donations by local individuals, church congregations, and businesses in our area. It does not seek help from outside sources.

In recent months, donations have slowed a bit, but the food pantry managers, coordinators and volunteers have been able to continue distributing food mostly the same as in the past. Of course, donations of money and groceries are always needed and thoroughly appreciated.

The Kiwanis Club of Winnfield is overjoyed to honor as Grand Marshal of this year’s Christmas Parade the generous group of people who manage, coordinate, volunteer and assist, and donate to the wonderful Christian ministry that is our own Winn Community Food Pantry.

Everyone in the community is invited to the Annual Christmas Parade Reception hosted by the City of Winnfield honoring the Winn Community Food Pantry as Grand Marshal, on Friday, December 2 from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Winn Parish Library, 200 N. St. John Street, Winnfield, LA.

The Winnfield Christmas Parade will roll down Main Street on Friday, Dec. 2 at 6 pm with a wonderful fireworks display to follow. The theme for this year is “A Louisiana Christmas.”