A Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa has begun construction on a new, market-style food pantry that will seriously expand its ability to combat hunger in the area.

Grace Presbyterian Church, off Hargrove Road south of Forest Lake, said in a press release the spirit of their ministry was born in 2002 as the Deacon’s Food Pantry at the former University Presbyterian and has been expanding ever since.

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The ministry became the current Loaves and Fishes food pantry in 2016 when Grace was born out of a merging of two congregations, but work is well underway on the next step for the program -- the Table of Grace market-style food pantry.

When it opens in early fall, the new food pantry will allow clients in need to select their own food as they would in a store from aisles stocked with donated food. This allows clients to plan their own meals and get ingredients that suit their unique dietary needs and preferences instead of hoping to find what they want in a one-size-fits-all distribution bag.

The goods on offer will be stocked with inventory provided by the West Alabama Food Bank and other donations.

“At Table of Grace, we will still have the same foods that we have now, but clients will choose what they put in their bags,” said Food Pantry director Jennifer Shepard. “We will be able to offer a greater variety to choose from and include items that address health or diet issues. Right now, everybody receives a similar bag, and substitutions are not possible.”

The church said in the press release that the ministry will also expand with a new community gleaning program, a local orchard and a community garden, which will need new volunteers to develop and maintain,

“We plan to be able to add seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to this selection from food we grow in a garden and from a network of growing and gleaning throughout the area," said congregant Brooke Peterson. "We will need volunteers for food distribution on a weekly basis. We will need people to help stock and organize the food. We will need gardeners and community organizers.”

The under-construction building will also offer Grace more freezer, refrigeration and storage space, which will allow them to serve more households. The church said they feed 600 - 800 people monthly and gave away more than 85,000 pounds of food last year.

Anyone who qualifies for SNAP, TANF, SSI automatically qualifies to receive food from the pantry for free and others may qualify if they meet certain income eligibility requirements. For those who don’t meet any of those requirements, the church offers emergency food bags.

“Table of Grace reflects who we are as a church,” said Emily Altman, chairperson of Grace’s Mission, Peace, and Justice Committee. “We are a church that feeds God’s people.”

For more on the development of this new community resource as updates are available, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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