Coming Full Circle
John had a good job working for DHL in Wilmington. But when the big shipping company slashed jobs nationwide in 2008, John was one of 7,000 people in Wilmington without a job. The city of 12,000 had been a distribution hub. Overnight, the local economy collapsed.
Like many workers at the time, John remained in Wilmington searching for work in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. John found it difficult to provide for his family and turned to the local pantry to feed his children until he found stable work.
Now that John is back on his feet, he jumped at the chance to serve others at Food for All in Highland County. A friend invited him to join as a volunteer, and John brought his son to learn from the experience.
They worked side by side, unloading pallets and stacking fresh produce, frozen meat, eggs and canned goods on folding tables. When the pantry opened to the more than 200 people, John greeted them with smiles as he distributed fresh eggs.
One woman, with tears in her eyes, caught his attention.
Emma said she was embarrassed. She never had to go to a food pantry before but hunger forced her to turn to others for support.
His understanding smile put her at ease as he shared his story. John assured the woman, “No one is judging you because all the volunteers know they could be ones in line one day. The future is not guaranteed.”
While John and his family have come full circle, John said he’ll always appreciate those who assisted him along the way and he’s glad he took the time to volunteer.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.”
Catholic Charities efforts to serve the poor by feeding the hungry expanded last year to reach more school-aged children in Springfield schools and families in counties east of Cincinnati.
In Springfield, Catholic Charities Second Harvest Foodbank partnered with schools for a grant to provide “Power Packs” of weekend meals to students who otherwise would go hungry over the weekend.
One of the families whose two children receive Power Packs temporarily lost their home. With no permanent residence, the Power Packs meant they had one less thing to worry about as they sought shelter. Another child receiving Power Packs shared with her teacher that the only food she ate was what she received at school. Her mother wasn’t feeding her. Caseworkers removed the child from the mother’s custody and placed her into temporary foster home.
Another woman who is raising her grandchildren shared her gratitude for Power Packs.
“Raising my grandchildren is hard. I have a limited income and we make do with what we have. When the kids started bringing the food home last year it was a blessing. It was very helpful in the summer when food was available for the kids, too. They absolutely loved the fresh fruit. And, I was able to use the mobile to pick up food for a couple of meals. The food you provide is helping us get by,” the grandmother said.
As Catholic Charities Parish Outreach Director Scott Stephens visited with pastors and parish staff across the 11 counties served by the agency, feeding the hungry was one of the top concerns from parishes in the Eastern Counties.
“I met with pastors, ministers from other faiths and other groups to try and understand the needs and where the need was greatest,” Stephens said. “Our initial plan was to send a mobile pantry to these communities like Second Harvest but that wasn’t practical.”
Instead, Stephens worked with the FreeStore Foodbank to order pallets of food that would be dropped off at distribution points in rural food deserts in Adams, Brown, Clermont, Clinton and Highland counties. He partnered with local churches – Catholic and Protestant – to identify locations and recruit volunteers. It takes between 20 and 30 volunteers to set up and execute food distributions five times a month. Volunteers enjoy making a difference in the lives of their neighbors.
The program is called Food for All in solidarity with a campaign launched in 2013 by Pope Francis to end hunger. During the first 12 months, Food for All distributed 412,000 pounds of food and personal care products to the five counties. On average, Food for All served 1,400 people per month.
Now, Food for All is expanding into Hamilton County by providing Power Packs of weekend meals to students at St. Clements, St. Martin of Tours and Sts. Peter and Paul schools. Each weekend qualifying students receive a Power Pack for the weekend. Once per month, Food for All provides for a school pantry for the families of children in the program.
Sometimes people are reluctant to accept food because they believe their neighbors may need it more. Stephens said, “I ask them how they get by when they run out of money. We’re here to enable them to stretch their resources further so they can afford the gas money to get to work or pay their electric bills. One client who came to us in the beginning is now a volunteer. He got a better paying job, and he wants to give back.”
Catholic Charities Food for All coordinator noticed an elderly woman sitting next to a woman in her 20’s balancing a child on her lap one day at the Food for All distribution in Bethel. They weren’t in line so the coordinator, Jackie, struck up a conversation with the two women.
She quickly learned that the older woman was young woman’s granddaughter and she brought her to Food for All because she knew her granddaughter needed the food.
But the younger woman was proud and insisted she was fine. Besides, she reasoned, other people needed the food more than she did. She had food stamps that enabled her to feed her children.
Then Jackie asked, “Do you have enough money and food stamps to feed you and your child all month?” The younger woman bowed her head and said, “Not really.”
Jackie grabbed her by the hand and said, “That is why we’re here. We can fill the gap.”
After wiping away a tear, the young woman handed her child to her grandmother and proceeded to pick out fresh produce and baked items, frozen meat and other staples.
Feeding the Hungry
Debbie enjoys volunteering with Catholic Charities Food for All when the mobile pantry visits Adams County each month. She’s amazed every time the 30 or so volunteers transform an empty building at the fairgrounds into a well-stocked pantry in under an hour to serve more than 200 people.
Like several of the volunteers, Debbie is a client of Food for All, too. Volunteers wait until everyone is served before selecting food items for their families.
But last month was different. Nearly 240 people lined up when Catholic Charities had only delivered for 220.
Debbie looked at the long line, many familiar faces and smiled. Through Catholic Charities, her neighbors would be fed even if she and her family would go without. Debbie along with the other volunteers stayed until everyone was served.
Miraculously, no one was turned away and food for 220 became food for 238.
Volunteers like Debbie may have left empty handed that day but their hearts were full with love because through Catholic Charities their neighbors were fed.
“And He took bread, gave thanks….”(Lk22:19)
It was a beautiful day as the Catholic Charities coordinator worked with volunteers to transform an apartment building’s meeting space into a Food for All distribution site in Wilmington.
Most of the people who visit this location are elderly or disabled because the apartment complex serves low-income disabled and elderly people. One woman, recovering from a stroke, always greets the volunteers with gratitude. One man is blind and several visitors rely on wheelchairs. The Catholic Charities coordinator greeted every guest with a smile and sometimes traded jokes. The faces and names become familiar with monthly visits.
Then a woman in a wheelchair handed the coordinator a card. The simple handwritten note thanked Catholic Charities for driving all the way to Wilmington and sharing food with her and her neighbors. She wrote, “You’ll never know how much this means to us.”
Through your support, Catholic Charities is feeding 2,000 people every month with the support of scores of volunteers who build and deconstruct the Food for All pantries in a day. These volunteers support Food for All through their time, energy and prayer.
Food for All Tackles Hunger
The Food for All Pantry outreach director went through his mental checklist on the long drive to Adams County. It was the second visit to one of the high poverty counties in Ohio. The mobile pantry had been overwhelmed during the first visit by the throng of people and cars crowding the tiny parking lot next to the church.
This time he was prepared with extra volunteers from GE who would manage the parking lot and make sure the food truck was unloaded first.
But he was not prepared for Sharon. She was first in line after walking a mile that morning to get food. Sharon shrugged off her walk because without a car she walks everywhere. She pointed to another woman she met that morning who had pushed her toddler in a stroller for a quarter of a mile.
This is why the Food for All Pantry is appreciated so much by people who live in food deserts, cut off from public transportation and with no neighborhood markets to shop. Food pantries are scattered and often too far to walk.
The volunteers unloaded the truck and opened Food for All an hour early for the 48 people waiting. These shoppers found a variety of fresh produce, breads and frozen meats. Many joined friends and neighbors with cars to make it easier to take home more than 30 food items. The shoppers were pleased by the variety of food – even a graduation cake that was perfect for a mother who hadn’t been able to buy her graduating daughter a cake.
By the end of the day, Food for All served 153 families. And the young mother with toddler in the stroller found a ride home.
Volunteers Share Love
It was an unseasonably snowy day in March, when a woman returned to the Catholic Charities Food for All Pantry in Hillsboro in tears. Shirley just loaded her monthly groceries into her car but returned to speak to a volunteer.
“I want to thank you for providing this food but also for how you treated me,” Shirley said through tears. She explained that she was touched by the respect and kindness the volunteers showed her. The thoughtfulness was overwhelming for her.
It had been difficult for Shirley to visit the mobile pantry for assistance. She feared she would be judged. Instead, she felt loved.
“While we provided many meals for Shirley’s family that day, we provided so much more by the love and dignity we showed her,” said Scott Stephens, parish outreach director. “Her tears of appreciation reminded all of us there is much more going on than providing food.”
The Catholic Charities Food for All Pantry is made possible by contributions to the One Faith, One Hope, One Love campaign which enabling Catholic Charities to serve more people in the rural areas of Adams, Brown, Clermont, Clinton and Highland counties.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Scott Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food for All Feeds Hundreds
About 30 volunteers stood in prayer inside the sanctuary at the Greater Life Assembly of God Church in Hillsboro on a cold February morning. Pastor “Red” Gallimore talked warmly about those they’d serve in a couple of hours.
The pastor quoted the Bible in describing how they would feed “the least of these” in the community who would visit the first Catholic Charities Food for All Pantry.
Annie Mustard of Community Outreach said many of the nearly 200 people expected to visit the mobile pantry find it difficult traveling up to 30 minutes to the nearest conventional food pantry. Mustard explained, “They’re isolated in rural areas. They lack transportation to get to jobs to work or food pantries for assistance. Many will rely on friends to drop them off here or will carpool with neighbors.”
Many people were surprised to learn that Catholic Charities Food for All Pantry was coming to them. One elderly woman told Mustard that the pantry food would allow her to put aside extra money in her propane fund for heating.
One volunteer, Mark Fiske, said, “I want to invest in the community to make it better. This area is depressed. This (mobile pantry) is needed in the area.”
Catholic Charities is introducing Food for All mobile pantries in rural areas in Adam, Brown, Clermont, Clinton and Highland counties. Catholic Charities partners with community service providers and churches in these counties to determine locations based on need and accessibility. The goal is to provide 22 mobile food pantry visits this year.
This program is made possible by contributions made to the One Faith, One Hope, One Love campaign which is enabling Catholic Charities to serve even more people.