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Food pantry aids hundreds

By STEPHANIE ESTERS The Southern Illinoisan

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- About three dozen people are sitting in the blue chairs inside the church sanctuary, listening as Pastor Doug Cherry stands at the front, talking about God's power to heal.

As he finishes and heads to a room in the back, a video from a Christian concert is turned on, on a screen in a front corner of the room.

In the opposite corner of the sanctuary, two women sit behind a desk, one occasionally calling out a number, and someone presumably holding that number getting up to approach the desk. Others wait, and sometimes someone walking through the room notices someone waiting, greeting them with a quick hug, hello and short conversation.

Meanwhile, across the room, those two women at the desk meet individually with single people or couples, talking to and praying with them over whatever their concerns are.

This was the scene at the Victory Dream Center, which operates one of the area's largest food pantries, supplying free food three times a week to hundreds of people in Southern Illinois.

Victory Dream Center staff hosted an open house April 26, to show people what they do and what happens inside the food pantry.

While some people know about the facility's outreach, not everyone does, noted Nathan Cherry, an associate pastor at the church his parents founded more than a decade ago.

"We've kind of become known as the food pantry that prays for you," Nathan Cherry said.

Doug and Lisa Cherry, Nathan's parents, opened the church in 2002 and implemented the food pantry in 2010. Estimates are that it is has distributed more than 3.2 million pounds of food since -- about 10,000 pounds each week -- about 600,000 pounds in 2016 alone.

Each month, the St. Louis Area Food Bank makes two deposits to the food pantry, and once a month, food pantry staff drive to St. Louis to pick up more food.

There are no income requirements, and people seeking food need only to apply for it to receive it, available to pick up twice a month. While many people who visit the pantry also receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), not everyone does, and that is OK, Nathan Cherry said.

Cherry said he is thankful that the food pantry is able to give away as much food as it can, but he notes that it is able to do so because of a surplus elsewhere.

"There is so much waste in this country," he said.

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