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The Food Pantry: Community Harvest

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The Food Pantry:

Stephanie Bertelson - Community Harvest
Stephanie Bertelson - Community Harvest

A little more than two weeks ago, Community Harvest opened its brand-new Community Life Center. Stephanie Bertelson is the administrative director of the food pantry based in my hometown, Morton, Ill. Stephanie shares with Sam’s Dream Blog readers how 'it takes teamwork to make the dream work,' as John Maxwell would say.

Sam's Deam Blog: What’s your dream for the food pantry?

Stephanie Bertelson: The dream for the food pantry was that it would be a place where the community would come together to provide help, sharing God’s love in a practical way, and be built on the foundations of dignity and respect for those in need. It started out small, and has grown to be the largest food pantry in Tazewell County, where people feel safe and welcome. Our move to the Community Life Center is taking us into the next phase, where we will have the space and ability to expand in our food ministry as well as involve more of the community to partner with us.

SDB: When did this type of work become a passion of yours and why?

Stephanie Bertelson: My passions have developed over the years with a curious mix of social and technical aspects. While I never saw myself as an administrator of a food pantry, I have definitely had a strong desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I worked full time as a chemist, then as a process improvement specialist in a large corporation for 13 years. I loved the technical parts of those jobs, but missed the social, so I volunteered at places like Big Brothers Big Sisters, where I was a Big Sister, and at Aid to Women, where I was a volunteer crisis pregnancy counselor. When I moved to Morton and began attending Trinity Church, I started volunteering for Community Harvest, and I loved it. Within a year, the need arose for an administrator. I was itching to use the technical skills that would be needed to administrate, so I applied for the job.

SDB: Tell readers what a typical week looks like for you.

Stephanie Bertelson: As we transition into using the new building for the food pantry, we are working toward a new 'typical' or standard, but every week involves deliveries from the various food sources and teams of volunteers that will unload, sort, and put away the food, put together the bags of food in preparation for Saturday distribution, and often repackage bulk items. Coordinating volunteers and food deliveries, ordering, obtaining supplies, communicating with our contributors, and maintaining the financials are other weekly activities that I do as the administrator.

SDB: What are some of the rewards and challenges of working with different volunteers all the time?

Stephanie Bertelson: Our volunteers are wonderful! We have probably 70 volunteers each week that help in some way. I am very rewarded when I see the gold in people come out in so many wonderful, unique ways; some of the ideas and passions that come up when you work with a diverse group of people are amazing and show me over and over that none of us are meant to do this alone.

We need each other and all of our diversity, because we all have something special to add to the mix that makes the outcome better.

It is my desire to have Community Harvest be a good experience for all who come to help. The challenge in that is creating good, solid, standard processes that are easy to understand and follow, as well as finding the right fit for each volunteer so that they are using their skills and talents and find joy in their giving.

SDB: Do you have a favorite story about the pantry that you would like to share?

Stephanie Bertelson: One of my favorite stories is about our walk-in refrigerator/freezer. The building budget included $15,000 to purchase a walk-in freezer for the food pantry warehouse. Through word of mouth we found out about one was being stored, unused, on a local farm. The farmer had purchased it from a fast food restaurant that wasn’t going to use it anymore, with the intention to use it on his farm, but he could not hook it up because it required 3-phase electricity, which the farmer didn’t have. When he learned of our need, he offered to give it to us but warned us of the electric requirement. The church contacted the electric company and found out that it would cost $10,000 to get 3-phase service, but then was surprised to find out that we already had it! In the late 1970’s when the church was originally built, the electric company included 3-phase service to the church at no additional cost, even though they originally declined, saying they had no need of it. God provided the right type of electrical service in the 1970’s for the freezer that we would use at Community Harvest 40 years later!

Learn more about the food pantry here