Cars began arriving at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, and by 5 a.m. there were already 106 cars filled with people waiting in the dark, cold night for food.
The pantry hands out food items on the fourth Monday of every month to families that register with the facility. More than 80 volunteers were on hand on Nov. 24, working out in the rain to get food to the families who might otherwise go without.
“Have a smile on your face today and give everyone a kind word. This may be the only kind word they get all week,” said Dannie Devol to the volunteers just before the pantry opened for the day. Devol and his wife, Jane, run the facility, which also has a thrift shop that is open on Wednesdays and Fridays. The thrift shop helps to support the pantry, and also allows area residents to buy clothing items for $.50, coats for $1 and other items for very low prices.
In October, the pantry served food items to 759 families, which represented more than 2,000 people in need. The number of people helped on Monday was expected to be even higher.
Devol starts each day at the pantry leading the volunteers in a prayer and short pep talk. Then, the volunteers get to their stations and two lines of cars begin slowing making their way through the parking lot, getting food items placed in their vehicles at each station.
James Thompson got in line at 12:30 a.m. on Monday so that he could get through the line quickly after it opened.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t get here then,” he said. He also receives food stamps, but that program only provides for enough food for his family for about two weeks. The food pantry items help his family get through the month, he said.
One woman, who only wanted to give her first name, Cindy, explained that she got in line at 4 a.m.
“I wouldn’t be able to make it without this,” she said. Cindy works part-time, but the job does not pay enough to cover all of her bills or provide for her and her daughter.
One man, who also did not want to give his name, explained that he is disabled and unable to work. He got in line at 4:20 a.m. in order to get food.
While he is very thankful for the assistance, he wishes that he could be one of the people giving out the food instead of being one of the people receiving it.
Tammy Tippie got into the line at 4:30 a.m. She explained that the food items the pantry hands out make it worthwhile to spend much of the night sleeping in her car out in the cold.
“I’ve got my blanket,” she said. Tippie moved to Logan a few months ago and was able to find a job, but it does not pay enough to cover all of her expenses. She did not know how she would have made it through Thanksgiving without the help from the pantry, and said it means a lot to her and her family.
The food pantry hands out items such as cereal, tomato paste, vegetable soup, tomato juice, green beans, corn, peas, rice, dried cherries, applesauce, beef stew, ham, onions, noodles, potatoes, apples and bread. On Monday, it also provided turkeys and turkey breasts for Thanksgiving.
Volunteer Susan Aldridge helped to coordinate the turkey hand-outs on Monday. Aldridge is the store manager for the Logan Wal-Mart, and explained that the store had 31 employees volunteering at the pantry. The store previously has had as many as 68 volunteers at the pantry, and Aldridge explained that Wal-Mart donates $5,000 to the pantry every time a certain number of volunteer hours are worked there by the store employees.
“It humbles you,” Aldridge said about working at the pantry. “You look at all the people in line and you’ve got to be thankful for what you have, and you want to give something back.” The people going through the line are also very thankful, and Aldridge said she enjoys talking to them.
One woman told Aldridge that her grandchildren were coming to her home for Thanksgiving, and she was worried she wouldn’t have anything to feed them. The food bank was a big help for her, she said.
One store employee worked until 11 p.m. on Sunday, and then got in line at 1 a.m. so she could pick up food for two elderly shut-ins that she knows, Aldridge said. Many people, like that employee, go through the line picking up items for other people even if they are not receiving any food themselves.
George Ralph spent his day giving the people in line fliers about the free medical clinics held at local churches for the uninsured and underinsured. Ralph said that it is striking to see how long the line is for people waiting for food, and said it shows how deep the poverty problem is in the region.
“It gets a hold of you,” Ralph said.
The poverty problem is growing in southeast Ohio and the holidays can often add to the burden faced by local families. The fact that Thanksgiving and Christmas both come at the end of the month, while the government benefits many people receive don’t provide for enough food or funding to make it through a whole month, also makes it difficult for many families.
For more information on the Smith Chapel Food Pantry, call Devol at (740) 974-1356 or log onto smithchapelfoodpantry.com
By Nick Claussen
Community Relations Coordinator, Athens County Job and Family Services