Special to the Gallipolis Daily Tribune
OHIO VALLEY — “I’ll never forget it,” Bonnie Cargo said of the first food giveaway at Grace United Methodist (UM) Church in Gallipolis. “It seemed like everything was against us.”
The sky poured snow, hail and rain. That was the third Tuesday in April 2009. The church has been serving needy families ever since.
Grace UM became the second mobile food pantry site in Gallia County. The first was New Life Lutheran Church, located at the Gallia County fairgrounds. New Life holds a food giveaway every first Tuesday. Members from that church contacted Cargo, from Grace UM, in search of a pick-up point inside Gallipolis.
“I didn’t realize that so many families in the county are in need until then,” Cargo said.
As the needs in Meigs and Gallia counties seem to mushroom, so does the volunteer task force. Monthly food giveaways, hosted by the Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, are drawing volunteers of different ages and backgrounds.
On the second Tuesday of each month, the mobile food pantry finds its way to Meigs County. There the giveaway serves 160 to 170 families. Brian Dunham, pastor of Heath United Methodist and New Beginnings United Methodist churches, said, “You see great need, you see families that are coming every month. We also get new people every single month.”
At the same time, volunteers step in. One element that touches Dunham’s heart is seeing the churches working together. Close to 15 churches participate.
The giveaways average 30 volunteers. These help with parking, setting up food after the mobile food pantry truck arrives, helping people pick out items, lining up shopping carts and taking food to cars.
Members of the Meigs High School Honor Society help during the school year — seven or eight students a month. A Boy Scout troop volunteers in the summer. A group of retirees known as Tuesday Volunteers joins each month.
Members of the Meigs Ministerial Association work at the giveaways alongside people from their congregations. Women’s groups from the different churches take turns providing lunch for the volunteers.
“It’s really a combined effort,” Dunham said.
In Gallia County, Linda Sager volunteers every month at Grace U.M. Church giveaways. Last month, she said, they served 160 families. “It’s growing.”
Increasingly, volunteers are joining the effort and are branching out beyond food. Seamstresses from Grace UM sew clothes for babies and children. A Girl Scout troop collects books for adults and children. Across the street from Grace UM, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church collects and donates diapers. Another church, River City Fellowship, brings clothes and sometimes toiletries. Holzer Health Systems Of Gallipolis has held donation drives and has performed free health screenings in conjunction with the mobile food pantry.
As volunteers are helping meet the physical needs of those in their community, “we’re hoping that they will come to us for their spiritual needs as well,” Sager said.
The food giveaways bring rewards on both sides. Volunteers hear stories of unemployment and accumulating hospital bills; they see gratitude expressed through tears. Del Pullins, president of the Meigs Ministerial Association, said that when leaving the giveaway, people wave and say thank you. “They always give thanks.”
By the end of the line, shopping carts are “completely full,” Dunham said. Toward the end, the challenge is finding where to place the last few items. Many recipients have expressed “deep thanks.”
Last month in Gallia County, Cargo saw one woman standing outside the parish hall where people shop for food, hesitant to enter.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said. Cargo finally convinced her to go in. “It makes you feel good when you can help someone like that.”