SALEM — Cars used to go to the rear of 207 Highland Ave. for service. Now it's people who are being served there.
Joseph's Storehouse, formerly known as St. Joseph's Food Pantry, began operating out of the back of the former Hillcrest Chevrolet building this fall. The pantry is now a ministry of East Gate Christian Fellowship, which leases the building and began holding services there in September.
Both the church and food pantry have seen an increase in visitors and say they're happy with the new locale.
Longtime pantry volunteer VeAnn Campbell estimated they've seen a 25 percent increase in clientele since the move. That has left them scrambling to keep the pantry shelves full.
"It's been a tremendous success, but it's almost overwhelming," Campbell said. "We are so busy that it's frightening."
The pantry, one of the largest on the North Shore, is open every Saturday and also runs a delivery service to roughly 160 needy households for residents who are elderly, disabled or have no way of getting to the pantry on their own.
In November — when the pantry wasn't even open the full month — they served 1,875 families, Campbell said.
"People came in droves," she said. "When you open the doors (in a new location), you say 'Will anyone come?' But they did. We're happy about that."
The new location is on a bus line, has plenty of parking and is handicapped-accessible — all pluses, Campbell said.
The pantry is open to residents of Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Peabody and surrounding towns. Volunteers ask for participants' hometowns and income levels at the door, but use the information for reporting purposes only.
The pantry, which was started at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Parish, had moved locations several times after St. Joseph Church closed in 2004 and was most recently operating out of a warehouse on Franklin Street.
Campbell has plans to retire, possibly this summer, and is training her successor, Carl Lento, who will take over as executive director.
"I love the people of Salem and the North Shore. ... I love the people (who come to the pantry), and I think they know that," Campbell said. "I have worked for 12 years as a volunteer, and now when I leave I know the people will still be being fed. That's important to me, knowing it will continue. ... There's never any end to charity."
'The very thing we've been praying about'
East Gate Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational congregation, moved to Highland Avenue from a space at Museum Place Mall.
Partnership with the food pantry came together through a church member who knew Campbell and knew the pantry could use a new home, said Lou Badolato, senior pastor at East Gate.
"We've always helped the community with food and different needs, but on a smaller scale," Badolato said. "We had it in our heart and always had the desire to do more. The amazing thing is, it's the very thing we were praying about. ... We feel like we have the same heart and vision (as Campbell) and just kind of joined forces."
The food pantry is funded by a mix of sources, including donations that come from people throughout the North Shore, many of whom have given for years, he said.
In addition to providing a home for the food pantry, East Gate Christian Fellowship pays expenses, such as utility bills, for the pantry and sends volunteers from its membership.
"It's a wonderful church, very community-minded, and their mission is to help the poor," Campbell said. "They want to help people with their mind, body and soul."
The pantry is a natural extension of what the church does already, Badolato said.
"We just feel that a church, to be really effective and do what it's supposed to do, is to reach out and meet real needs in the community," he said.
The church has roughly 150 people who attend on a Sunday, he said. The front of the building is used for the church sanctuary, offices, fellowship hall and youth room, and the pantry uses the back, in what used to be Hillcrest's body shop.
Membership comes from a mix of backgrounds and cultures, Badolato said.
"We're a big family of different kinds of groups," he said. "We believe that church should be fun. It should be a place where you feel comfortable and grow in relationships, grow in your relationship with the Lord. ...
"We feel we share a message that is very relevant to our day and where we're living. We believe in the power of God, that God still heals people. God still does miracles in people's lives."
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
207 Highland Ave., Salem
Open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Donations of food can be dropped off at the pantry location, at the rear of the building. Diapers, tuna fish and cereal are always needed.
The organization is also seeking delivery drivers, who volunteer once a month with their own vehicles to bring food to five or six households.
For more information or to get involved, call 978-741-2728, visit www.theeastgate.org or search for "Joseph's Storehouse" on Facebook.