‘Perfect timing’ for Conway’s growing food pantry

By: Major Frank Duracher

Some may call it a great coincidence; some could say “the perfect storm;” while a few might liken it to “the planets aligning.” But there can be no doubt that the burgeoning need for a food pantry at the The Salvation Army’s Conway Corps in South Carolina required an organizational skill brought by Jim MacLean.

And just in the nick of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a string of crises for The Salvation Army of Horry County to address. Before the outbreak, perhaps 25 neighbors per week would be given foodstuffs for both distribution days of Thursdays and Fridays. But with the governor’s sanctions and the elimination of many businesses and jobs, that number mushroomed to 300 per week.

Now that restrictions are easing, the average is 50 neighbors per day — smaller, but still a significant number for the average Salvation Army pantry in a community of that size.

“We were at a crisis crossroads,” said Major Jennifer Melton, corps officer. “We were employing the ‘MyPlate Plan’ concept of food distribution suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (a program using a color-coded system for food group targets) but needed someone to organize and maintain a fast-growing scheme to thoroughly serve our neighbors during and after the Pandemic.”

That is where Jim comes in; and the planets seemed to align.

“My wife, Barbara, and I moved to Myrtle Beach on a leap of faith,” Jim said. “We love the area. But right away I needed to find a job down here—and then the virus hit, making finding a job nearly impossible.”

Jim was eventually hired at The Salvation Army’s Family Store in Surfside Beach. That is where he was spotted by Major Melton, who was immediately impressed with Jim’s easy rapport with customers.

Major Melton says, “That’s when the Holy Spirit spoke to us about Jim and the position that we needed in the Food Pantry.”

So, Major Melton asked Jim what probably seemed to him to be the funniest question ever: “How comfortable are you with canned foods, managing pallets, and stocking shelves?”

She goes on, “Jim just smiled big and told me his history. He was in the grocery business for 17 years; 15 of which were ‘overnight shifts’ that involved all those things!”

The “MyPlate Plan” became “My Plate, My Choice,” so that neighbors can select for themselves the items they wish, while achieving a balanced diet for their family.

Neighbors are given appointments on Thursdays and Fridays to “shop” in the store. On other days, Jim stocks the shelves, rotates the merchandise, makes appointments with families in need of assistance through the corps social service office, and welcomes them when they arrive at their appointed time.

“We call Jim our ‘Director of First Impressions,’” Captain Carl Melton said. “Jim has this pantry running like a sewing machine!”

Drawing from his supermarket experience, Jim uses the “waterfalling” method — the term in that business for arranging stock from top to bottom, assuring optimum ease for the customer.

“I love helping people and it is a real blessing for me to serve others here in Horry County,” Jim says. “The Lord directed me here, and this place is what The Salvation Army is here for!”

It all just came together, nicely.