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Pantry Loses Federal Support Over Prayer

Last updated on Tuesday, March 13, 2012

(SEYMOUR) - A Jackson County food pantry can no longer distribute federal food items because it asks clients to pray, and the agency cutting off the supply says it’s merely complying with state rules.

Paul Brock said he will not change the way he operates Community Provisions of Jackson County because he never requires a client to pray with him or one of its 45 other volunteers.

"We ask them if they want to pray with us, and if they say 'No,' we still give them food," Brock told The Tribune for a story Monday .

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana administers the federal program for the Indiana State Department of Health and ensures compliance with guidelines by food pantries. Spokeswoman Carrie Fulbright said the guidelines were set by the federal government.

"The guidelines are no religious (activity) or teaching can be required for providing services," she said. "We have to go off what the state says."

Because many food pantries have ties to churches, the state and Gleaners have suggested to faith-based operations that they offer brochures or establish a separate room for prayer while complying with regulations.

Gleaners visited the pantry Friday to pick up a remaining pallet of commodities, and Fulbright said it would be inventoried and redistributed to one of three remaining pantries in Jackson County that participate in the program.

Two or three pallets of federal commodities were delivered once a quarter to the Seymour pantry, Brock said.

"It's about 15 percent of our program," Brock said of the pantry, which serves about 90 to 100 families a week.

He said he's operated Community Provisions of Jackson County since 1997 and never had a problem before Gleaners took over administration of the federal commodities program in October 2011.

A regulation in the national Emergency Food Assistance Program states that no religious service or teachings can be required in conjunction with receiving service.

"I'm just a nobody trying to help people out," Brock said. "I also believe in the power of prayer. Prayer's not the sole answer, but it can't hurt."

Brock said he appealed the decision to the state health department.

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