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Church-based food pantries in Calvert County have been nothing new for a while; food pantries in Prince Frederick, as several parishioners at St. John Vianney Catholic Church recently discovered, were.

This is no longer the case, thanks to those parishioners.

St. John Vianney Pastoral Council President Don Mueller explained that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Peter Daly, came up with the idea to start a food pantry in May in light of the current tough economic climate and the fact that there did not appear to be a Prince Frederick-based food pantry.

Mueller said Daly contacted another parishioner, Larry Donnelly, who had previously worked in food services and the two visited about nine or 10 Calvert County food pantries to get an idea of what it takes to run one.

“ … Larry reported back that there was a real need,” Mueller said.

After that Mueller said Donnelly and several others got to work cleaning out an empty basement in a church building and asking for food donations from numerous Calvert organizations ranging from the Knights of Columbus to other churches.

On Wednesday the St. John Vianney Inter-Faith Food Pantry officially opened to the public; it will be open on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 3 to 7 p.m.

A third Wednesday will be added for the Christmas season on Dec. 21.

Food pantry committee member Gordon Norwood said the people utilizing the pantry don’t even need to get out of their cars as volunteers will come outside and greet them and give them a bag of food once the patron has signed in.

Norwood said while the goal for the food pantry is for people to eventually fill out “menus” of what they’d like, on Wednesday everybody received “pretty much the same thing” in their bag of groceries.

As of about 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Norwood said about 15 people had come to the pantry.

“We’re hoping for opening night to have 25,” he said, continuing that he hopes numbers will reach 65 or higher as the year goes on and word about the food pantry spreads.

He said the food pantry is open to anybody who lives in between Broomes Island Road and the Route 2/4 split in Sunderland.

Donnelly said he was touched by the work of the nearly 60 volunteers at the food pantry, currently led by himself, Norwood, Jack Yatsko and Miranda Jarnot.

Donnelly said the plan is to have the food pantry open every week starting in February of 2012.

“If I could have between 75 and 100 families, I’d feel we’re really successful,” said Donnelly, continuing he’d also like to have about six other churches involved.

He said St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Prince Frederick and Jesus the Divine Word Church in Huntingtown have already sent donations.

The food distributed Wednesday included canned meats, vegetables, fruit, pasta sauce, soup, baked beans, boxed pasta, instant mashed potatoes, crackers, cereal, condiments, taco fixings, Ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly, drinks and snacks like pudding cups.

“I think we had a good opening it went smooth,” Donnelly said.

“It makes us feel good that we could give back to the community like that,” Norwood said.

One of the highlights of Wednesday was Evette Howard of Parish Partners, a Catholic Charities organization, dropping by to tell Donnelly that her organization can donate 10 Thanksgiving turkeys and fixings to go with them.

“Can I hug you?” Donnelly exclaimed to Howard.

Yatsko said another facet benefitting the food pantry is the fact that it is now part of the countywide nonprofit End Hunger in Calvert County initiative, meaning the St. John’s Vianney food pantry can now receive a portion of End Hunger’s donations.

“And the finances have been coming along,” Yatsko said, continuing that the public may donate money to the food pantry through the website www.sjvc.us/foodpantry, which accepts PayPal donations, or at the church at 440 Main Street Prince Frederick, MD 20678.

“It’s a great tax write-off right at the end of the year,” Donnelly said of donating money to the food pantry, about which he said, “I think we’ll be OK. We’ll make it OK because we’ve got God on our side.”

lbuck@somdnews.com