The Delavan Food Pantry in the basement of St. Andrew Parish has been renamed to honor founder Harold Johnson. (Submitted photo)

Harold Johnson had a heart for the poor, and it was his compassion that led him and Bob Drefs to begin the Delavan Food Pantry in the basement of St. Andrew’s Parish in 1980. Their goal was to supplement family nutrition and help the working poor make ends meet.

When Johnson died in 2001, Drefs assumed the role of director. The pantry was then renamed the Harold Johnson Delavan Food Pantry in honor of his love, dedication and service to the community.

In April 2015, Johnson’s daughter, Terry Bailey, became the pantry director, allowing Drefs to retire. Bailey has served as a food pantry volunteer since 2013 and has appreciated hearing about her father’s legacy.

“I think the community thought favorably of my dad because he started the pantry that was much needed,” Bailey said. “With the name change came a rededication of the pantry, and some community members were quoted as saying, ‘He had a servant’s heart,’ ‘I thought he was a great man because of his generosity,’ ‘He was always a giving person and gave of his time, his patience and his love,’ and ‘Whatever he could do, he did.’ I think he meant a lot to the community.”

Though the mission to serve the poor of the community is the same as the day Johnson and Drefs started it, Bailey added it is much larger now and serves more clients than when it began.

“The design has changed since we had a much-needed renovation from January 2017 to September 2018. The pantry moved to a temporary, donated location so we could still serve the community during the remodel,” she explained. “We have it arranged as a small grocery store with merchandise stocked on shelves so the clients can make their own selections of non-perishables, such as vegetables, protein, fruit, grains, miscellaneous items, and also bread, meat, produce and dairy.”

Bailey explained that most food pantries pre-pack all grocery items for their clients rather than allow each individual to choose their items. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, they have had to pre-pack grocery items to be distributed curbside.

“We sometimes include a recipe in each bag along with all the necessary ingredients to complete preparation of the dish,” Bailey said.

The Harold Johnson Delavan Food Pantry is open every Saturday, including holidays, from 8:30 to10:30 a.m., and serves approximately 130 families per month, an increase over previous years.

“The need has increased, and a number of new people and families have registered at the pantry since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” Bailey said. “People can come to the pantry twice per month. They will receive an assortment of canned goods, cereal, bread, dairy items, meat/fish, and fresh produce. The amount distributed per visit is dependent on the number of people living in the household.”

Before the pandemic, the food pantry averaged 15 volunteers each Saturday. Since COVID, six volunteers are distributing prepacked bags of groceries curbside.

The pantry is funded through private donations, churches, businesses and the grace of God, Bailey said.

“Many of the donations are monetary, and some are the result of food drives held in the community,” she said. “Unlike many food pantries, we have never needed to have a fundraiser to support the pantry. We are 100 percent volunteer staffed with overhead costs of only office supplies, cell phone and website.”

Delavan-Darien residents needing the assistance of the food pantry are asked to bring in the following: a photo ID (must be shown at each visit); a legal piece of mail (utility bill, lease agreement, phone bill) with current Delavan or Darien address on it; and birth certificates for all children younger than 18 currently living at the residence.

The Harold Johnson Delavan Food Pantry is located at 714 E. Walworth Ave., Delavan, and can be reached at 262-374-3503.