By Paul Swiech
BLOOMINGTON -- No family with young children can thrive without toilet paper, diapers and bandages.
But for some low-income people, household paper products may take a back seat to food, medicine and rent.
That's a gap that members of Wesley United Methodist Church, in cooperation with Midwest Food Bank, are trying to bridge.
The church has opened Wesley West, one block west of the church sanctuary, in the former Chase Bank building, at 413 E. Washington St., Bloomington.
From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month, Wesley West opens its doors for low-income people to "shop" for needed household paper products, including toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels, baby wipes, diapers, adults diapers, bandages, tampons and pads.
There is no charge for the products that are donated by Midwest Food Bank and church members. Church members also volunteer at Wesley West, picking up and unpacking products and assisting shoppers.
"A lot of government assistance programs, like the Link card, don't cover paper products," said Midwest Food Bank Executive Director Chad Bevers.
"To my knowledge, this group is the only one providing paper products exclusively," added food bank Operations Manager Jeni Hanson.
When the Wesley Distribution Ministry opened in January, 24 families were served, said Karen Daudelin, a church member and leader of the distribution ministry. During the distribution on July 21, 134 people were served, representing 633 family members, she said.
"It seems to be meeting a genuine need in the community," Daudelin said.
Wesley acquired the former Chase Bank building last year and decided to use it as a community service center.
"We were looking for opportunities to involve our members in more hands-on, local (service) experiences," Daudelin said.
She and other church representatives met with human services leaders, including Karen Zangerle of PATH and Mike Hoffman of the food bank, and concluded that low-income people in McLean County had a need for paper products.
Most food pantries don't have room for toiletries, Bevers said.
"People are getting help with food and clothing," but not paper products, Hanson said.
Wesley decided to open the distribution ministry. The food bank gets the products from manufacturers and other organizations, such as Feed the Children, while church members buy the items and donate them.
"It's great when an organization can branch out and look for other ways to serve," Hanson said. "This helps the food pantries to focus on food."
Recipients fill out a simple form that asks their name, number of people in their household, how they heard about the ministry and the date.
The location, near downtown with a bus stop in front of the building, is convenient to people in need, Daudelin said.
"People who come in are extremely grateful," she said.
(Reprinted with permission from the Aug. 15 issue of the Bloomington Pantagraph, www.pantagraph.com)