Volunteers at pantries provide food and hope

Volunteers at pantries provide food and hope
Dave Mast

The Food Pantry at the Church of God in Millersburg continues to serve many. Volunteers like Ellen McCollum, left, and Marilyn Cruit are two examples of the many volunteers throughout Holmes County that allow food pantries to touch the lives of many and to help spread hope for a better day.


According to hunger statistics posted by the Akron Food Bank, 1-in-6 Americans struggle with hunger, more than 1-in-5 children live below the poverty line and 49 million Americans live in food-insecure households where they don’t know from day to day where their next meal will come from or don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable food.

Numbers like this exemplify the important role food pantries play in serving their respective communities, even in a county like Holmes County that doesn’t see the sheer volume of need many other more populous counties face.

And what drives the success of area food pantries in Holmes Counties is the desire to help others, coupled with volunteers.

Since the inception of all of the county’s food pantries, volunteers have been the cogs that allow each to operate successfully. What makes people want to volunteer is compassion and love for others that goes beyond serving oneself.

“It gives people a greater sense of purpose,” Love Center Food Pantry director Edgar Raber said. “People want to give back because they feel as though they have been blessed. All of the volunteers share a very compassionate and caring heart for others.”

Raber said the Love Center works hard to make the volunteer experience very much like that of a family atmosphere.

That alone has been a struggle this past year with COVID-19 forcing food pantries to alter the way they work. It has forced pantries to move to a team mentality and has made getting together much more difficult.

Bill Morrison has been volunteering at the Love Center Food Pantry for 15 years. He said the idea of being a good Samaritan was enticing, and he felt by serving others, he would be improving the quality of life for everyone involved.

Morrison said in the beginning he used to bring his young daughter Megan, who is now a junior at Mt. Vernon University, to the Love Center, and they would work together. He has been passing out meat and doing whatever else is needed ever since.

While giving back is a common theme among volunteers, Morrison said the benefits work for the volunteers as well.

“There is something comforting about coming in and fellowshipping with each other,” Morrison said. “We all feel that we are doing something worthwhile for the community and for those in need, but it is uplifting to us too.”

Noreen McDowell has been volunteering at the Love Center for several years, and she believes seeing families in need firsthand is what nudges many volunteers to get involved.

“It’s gratifying to know you are helping families who really need it,” McDowell said. “I didn’t really realize how much need there was in Holmes County until I saw it in a neighboring family and started volunteering here. This world can be a difficult place, and I think we are all called to serve others the best we can.”

At the Food Pantry at Church of God in Millersburg, like many pantries, the volunteer base is filled with senior citizens who want to give back.

Gene Rockwell has been overseeing the pantry’s distribution program for 12 years. He said he went seeking a way to stay busy following retirement. Once he found a fit, he has been at it ever since.

Rockwell said the food pantries are more than just about giving food. They also are about showing concern for others and building relationships that create hope for families.

“We see people in need every week, and while they need food, we also pray for them and work to build relationships because ultimately that is every bit as important as the food.

Ellen McCollum has volunteered at the Church of God ministry for many years. She said what drew her to volunteer along with the desire to help others was the fellowship with other volunteers.

“I love doing it,” McCollum said. “We have made some great new friends, both in volunteers and in the families who come in week after week. Sometimes they will come in and ask us to pray for them. There is a connection that takes place throughout the food pantry that helps build relationships.”

The ever-present chattering, the good-natured ribbing and the fellowshipping that takes place at these food pantries speak volumes as to the importance of each, for both the volunteers and the visiting families.

“In the end we all want to give back because we felt called to help others,” McCollum said. “There is a real sense of satisfaction in doing so. We never know how we might touch someone’s life in a positive way.”

Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, noted the importance of volunteering and serving others in a video. “Together, we are the difference between hunger and hope. The need is very real,” he said.

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