PLEASANT PLAINS — Bill Mowder, a parishioner at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, has found a significant calling in his retirement. As coordinator of Helping Hands Food Pantry in Pleasant Plains, he and other volunteers make sure that about 60 families a month get the food they need to survive and thrive.
Helping Hands is a project of the Pleasant Plains Community Club and is housed at 100 W. Main St. It serves people from Cass, Menard, Mason, and Sangamon counties. The current food pantry location, opened early this year, boasts a refrigerator, two deep freezers, rows of neatly stacked shelves and a storage unit.
“We started small but have grown quite a bit,” Mowder said. “Until early this year we were in a 100-square-foot area, but then we were able to rent this place at a good price and we have 780 square feet.”
While many people associate hunger with those living in big cities, Mowder knows better. Hunger knows no boundaries, he explains. “There are people in rural areas who need help as much as people in the cities need it,” he said. “Most of our families come from rural areas.”
Helping Hands cooperates with the Central Illinois Food Bank in Springfield. “They get the food brought in and we purchase it at a low price,” Mowder said, explaining that funding for Helping Hands comes from donations from a variety of places. “I usually go get the food and pick it up three to four times a month. At Helping Hands, we turn out 3,500 to 4,000 pounds of food a month.” The pantry is open every other Wednesday and every other Saturday each month.
Mowder has a small committee he works with and a larger group of volunteers to help maintain the pantry and to assist clients. “They are all ages and our oldest volunteer is 86. I am thankful for all of our volunteers and for all the dedication of the community,” he said.
Mowder, who is retired from the military and law enforcement, says the Helping Hands pantry is unique because clients “free shop” for food. “We give them a cart and they can pick out what they need,” he said. “I have people tell me they feel very comfortable here — they appreciate the way they are treated.” Families are always provided staples like eggs, milk, cheese, bread, breakfast cereal, snacks, peanut butter, and jelly. They are welcome to meat, soup, and other canned goods.
Father Daren Zehnle, pastor at St. Augustine and at St. Peter Parish in Petersburg, recently accompanied Mowder to Helping Hands to witness the good work being done there. “I watched one lady — a first time visitor to the pantry — begin to tear up because Bill asked her what meats she liked and let her choose from a variety,” he said. “All in all, I was touched by what I experienced that night — simple, kind, loving and good Christian charity.”
On Mother’s Day weekend, Helping Hands went a step further and provided special food for a tasty and healthy family meal. “We gave them a nice roast or turkey breast, salad greens and potatoes,” Mowder said. “We made a nice meal out of it.”
Mowder says the recent coronavirus pandemic and the financial problems it has caused has meant more families need help, especially those with children. All in all, it has been a challenge. “We have followed all the government orders. We give them a mask and they have to practice social distancing. After the pantry closes for the day, it takes about three days of sanitizing for it to be
“But food is a basic need, especially for kids. There is nothing worse than a kid being hungry,” he said. “We have lunch foods and snacks that kids like. It’s something to fill their bellies and it’s not bad tasting.”
Mowder puts it simply. “There is no reason for people to go hungry and people need to maintain their dignity. We don’t turn anyone away. Our goal
is that nobody goes hungry.”