Nov. 29—WAGENER — Rain, frost and sweltering heat are now less of a concern for dozens of local residents who need a hand in managing their grocery bills from month to month, and Wagener's fire department is part of the solution.
Area Churches Together Serving has established the third Saturday morning of each month as its time for distributing free food for those who qualify, and the fire department has opened its doors — literally — to assist.
Tons of groceries have been passed out since the program's establishment. The current arrangement includes using a fire bay to provide shelter for volunteers and clients alike, with a roof overhead, the possibility of a cross breeze and the presence of a heating system, if needed.
The new system has volunteers approaching clients on Park Street, to collect the relevant names, addresses and income information for the basic paperwork. Traffic moves into the fire station and each vehicle spends a minute or two inside, with volunteers approaching and putting the groceries in place — usually the trunk or the back seat — for the trip home.
"It seems like it's been going pretty well," said Perry Mayor James Darley, who is sometimes among the volunteers. November's grocery group mainly composed of employees and other associates of Aiken Electric Co-op.
The monthly service is provided for residents of Salley, Perry and Wagener, in harmony with an outreach provided via Wagener United Methodist Church, a few blocks away from the fire station.
The church, also on the third Saturday morning of each month, provides free food for senior citizens (ages 60 and up) who meet income requirements. Service is normally from 7:30 or 8 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. Service at the fire station normally runs from about 9:30 a.m. until about 11 a.m.
The Rev. Jessica Kight, the church's pastor, gave a thumbs-up review to the Nov. 19 effort.
"Every month that we do it, we have more and more people through ... Availability of the food is based on income, and all they have to do is fill out some paperwork," she said.
The Aiken Electric Co-op crew provided more than 100 turkeys for the November session "and all of them were gone," she said. "We handed out at least 100 families' worth of food, and then we gave out 41 at the church, for the 60-and-older crowd."
Part of the co-op team bought more turkeys at Wagner's Piggly Wiggly once the original supply in the fire station had been exhausted. They bought every turkey in the store to feed several more families.
"I think it worked out perfect," said David Watson, Wagener's fire chief. "People are able to drive right through ... The advantages of using that is, one, it keeps people safe and, because it's a secondary street, people are able to line up without causing any congestion on the main road, and people, on the whole, just feel safer being at a fire house."
The food-distribution events have not impeded the fire station's traditional business, Watson said.
"We've been able to run calls without any hiccups or hesitations. We've been able to keep everything flowing as normally."
ACTS' related activities, in terms of food, include monthly distribution at the New Ellenton Community Center (fourth Fridays), at the Ridge Spring Farmer's Market (third Wednesdays) and at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School (second Fridays). Events for seniors are held in Aiken, at the Park Avenue facility (third Saturdays), at the Gregg Park Civic Center, in Graniteville (third Saturdays) and at 107 Charles Street, in Jackson (third Saturdays).
ACTS also operates a food pantry open for all ages and open on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A valid photo ID is required at all locations. Details are at (803) 642-5919 and (803) 649-3800.