PINCKNEYVILLE — Least of the Brethren Food Pantry celebrated 20 years of feeding the hungry in Southern Illinois on Tuesday morning. George and Betty Culley operate the pantry.
George Culley said the pantry might not be in operation if he had kept his job as a coal miner working for Sahara Coal. He estimates losing his job cost him around $600,000, the amount he would have made until his retirement 15 years later.
Rather than focus on what was lost, he decided to help others and believes God asked him to do just that.
“Jesus' hands feed the hungry,” George Culley said.
“I love the Lord,” Betty Culley said. “We serve him, and we serve his people.”
George Culley first opened a food pantry in June 1997 in West Frankfort, where he lived. He named the operation Least of the Brethren, which was taken from a passage in the Bible, Matthew 15:35-40, which talks about feeding the hungry.
In 1997, he packed up the operation and moved to Pinckneyville, in part because the need was so great in that area, he said.
The pantry originally operated at 401 W. Water St., and moved eight blocks to 1100 Kennedy Drive in 2002. In December 2011, an anonymous donor gave the operation a former supermarket building at 407 S. Douglas St. The building was five times larger than the original location.
George Culley married Betty Culley in September 2009 after a brief courtship.
The pantry still operates out of the building on Douglas Street. In addition to the pantry, the building houses living quarters for the couple and a small chapel for Least of the Brethren Ministries.
Pinckneyville Mayor Robert Spencer called Least of the Brethren Food Pantry a very much needed organization and said George Culley plays an important part in the community.
“Cars line up all the way around the block. He’s just amazing,” Spencer said.
One of our responsibilities is to provide food in the area. Without George, we could not do it,” Frank Finnegan, president and CEO of St. Louis Area Foodbank, said.
St. Louis Area Foodbank delivers food to Least of the Brethren Food Pantry every month. Finnegan said the pantry is one of the larger pantries in the area.
“I’ve been around George and the pantry for a number of years, and they do incredible work. What they do is needed now more than ever,” State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Red Bud, said.
The Rev. Charlie Smith of Paradise Baptist Church has been involved with the pantry since 2001.
“He (George) works really hard at it, and he has good help,” Smith said.
State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, arrived at the pantry with a donation. She brought 12 cases of canned vegetables and half a case of macaroni and cheese.
George Culley spoke briefly, thanking those gathered, which included pantry volunteers and donors.
Alysia Culley, George Culley’s youngest child, has been working at the pantry since she was a teenager and now serves on its board.
“There’s not really much better you can do than serve others,” Alysia Culley said.
Least of the Brethren Food Pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Friday. For information, call 618-357-9530.