Dave Rager In The Spotlight

Dave Rager, director of the Interfaith Community Food Pantry in Nanty Glo, holds a box of food given to pantry patrons on the last Wednesday of each month, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

NANTY GLO – Tucked away on a quiet street in Nanty Glo is a nondescript one-story warehouse full of the food on which hundreds of people in communities such as Belsano, Mundy’s Corner, Nanty Glo, Twin Rocks, Vinco, Blacklick Township, East Taylor Township, Vintondale and Jackson Township depend in part.

Dave Rager, director of the Interfaith Community Food Pantry, said in an interview at that Foster Street warehouse on Thursday that pantry volunteers pack that food into hundreds of boxes on one Wednesday each month and distribute them to people in need in the Jackson Township and Nanty Glo areas on the following Saturday.

“This month, we’ll be packing 204 boxes, and we had 12 left from last month, so we’ll have a total of 216 on the floor,” Rager said.

Each one of those boxes contains 22 nonperishable items, including staple items such as peanut butter, canned tuna, fruit, vegetables and saltine crackers, among others. Box recipients also will receive a meat item, milk, bread and eggs, as well as produce obtained by the food pantry through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Produce to People initiative, he said.

Since the Foster Street warehouse is so small, the pantry’s leaders can’t distribute from it directly. Instead, the boxes are taken to one of three Nanty Glo-area churches for distribution. This month, they will be distributed from Pike Grace Brethren Church in Mundy’s Corner on Sept. 28; the other two churches in the rotation are St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. John Vianney Catholic Church.

Rager said that the hard work of a large number of dedicated volunteers makes the food pantry run “as smooth as a clock” on each month’s packing and distribution days.

Even though so many people attend each distribution day that the lines often snake around the church building and up the road, the crew of volunteers get 90% of them through the line before the end of the first hour, he said.

“We are blessed with the amount of volunteers that we have,” he said. “When we pack here on the 25th, we’ll probably have 15 to 20 here, just to pack – and then, on distribution day, we’re over 50. … They’re the backbone of this thing. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to operate it. It’s just too much.”

The food pantry is supported by a ministerium consisting of area churches whose members donate money or food, Rager said. It also gets grants through the United Way that can be spent to buy food from local markets or from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Food for Families program in Johnstown.

“It takes a lot to run a food pantry, you know?” he said.

The pantry also draws support from local companies, including what Rager described as “a couple big hitters” – Competitive Power Ventures, which is building its new natural gas-fueled CPV Fairview power plant in Jackson Township, and Kiewit, a large construction and engineering company that is involved with the construction of the CPV Fairview plant.

“That Kiewit and that CPV – unbelievable,” he said. “When they came in here, they were giving us turkeys. They were giving hams around the holidays. They brought us $5,000 last year around the holidays, and they probably brought us 5,000 items – canned goods and stuff.

“They’re really putting an effort in.”

Rager, a resident of Mundy’s Corner who recently retired after 18 years in management at the Coca-Cola plant in Ebensburg, said he got involved with the food pantry about four years ago when he began volunteering to help on packing days.

“I always liked to help people,” he said. “They needed someone, so I was helping for a while, and then the manager retired, so I took it over.”

He said the professional network he developed during his career now comes in handy when the food pantry needs help.

Local stores such as Sheetz, Shop ‘n Save and Ideal Market are regular donors of food to the pantry, and workers from the Coca-Cola plant in Ebensburg, his former workplace, are the ones who transport the food boxes from the Foster Street warehouse to the distribution sites, he added.

“One thing that’s good in this business is contacts,” he said. “I had contacts with all the major stores around the area when I was with Coca-Cola, so I know the people to call for food, for pricing, for all that kind of stuff. … We do try to shop local as much as we can, and I think the community knows that and that’s why we do as well as we do.”

In addition to the boxes that are distributed regularly each month, Rager said, the food pantry also distributes emergency boxes to help meet some of the needs of people who urgently need food, whether they lost everything they owned in a house fire or simply ran out of money.

“We get calls from people who are out of food,” he said. “They’ll meet me here, I’ll give them a box of food and then we can talk about alternatives for them as well. … I’ll give them the addresses and everything for all those places that they can go to for more help.”

One of the tasks that takes up much of Rager’s time is ordering enough food to keep the pantry stocked.

“I try to stay about a month out,” he explained. “What I’ll start now is working on October – to take my inventory, see what I have, and then I’ll start to order food already. As far as meat, I try to stay at least two months out. We’re doing hamburg this month, and then we’re doing meatballs for October.”

The pantry’s leaders will seek donations of various nonperishable Thanksgiving foods – stuffing mix, pumpkin pie filling, evaporated milk, pie crust mix, canned yams, dry gravy packets, canned cranberry sauce and plastic jars of applesauce – during its Thanksgiving food drive, which will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 27.

Rager said that anyone who is interested in volunteering with or donating to the Interfaith Community Food Pantry should call the pantry at 814-242-7910.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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