Tom and Shirley Fox live in a small house on a quiet little road in Athens County. About the only thing big at the property, in fact, is the large dog that ambles about outside.
Inside this humble home located near Millfield, though, the couple runs the Ray of Hope Food Pantry and provides a large amount of hope and assistance to people every day.
“We’re doing something to try to help other people,” Shirley said. She and her husband originally volunteered with the Feed My Sheep food pantry in Mineral. When they asked the director one day what else they could do to help, he suggested that they open a food pantry.
So, for the last eight years, Tom and Shirley have been running the Ray of Hope food pantry out of their home. The Feed My Sheep pantry helped them get started and provided them with food to hand out for several years.
When the time came for Tom and Shirley to take over the responsibility of getting all of the food for the pantry themselves, they were not sure how they were going to do it. Shirley explained that she walked into the room where they keep the pantry and prayed, asking for guidance and support for this work they felt called to do.
“The next day, someone came by and brought us some stuff,” Shirley said. Today, the food pantry has several regular donors, which include local individuals and families, as well as a few churches in the region and one in Columbus. The food pantry accepts donations of food, clothing and toys, as well as personal care items. When people donate cash to the food pantry, Shirley uses the money to buy more items for the pantry, often purchasing personal care items. The pantry currently helps around 20 families each month.
“Sometimes we don’t have food,” Tom said. “We could probably do more if we had it.” A few years ago, when the pantry had much more food on a regular basis, it was helping between 60 and 70 families each month.
The pantry is not part of the county-wide food pantry system, and families are able to pick up a food box once a month.
“If they absolutely need it, we’ll give them more,” Shirley said. As the economy has worsened locally and across the county in the last few years, Tom and Shirley have seen the impacts on local families firsthand.
Recently, for example, two single women were in the pantry picking up some food and other items. The women told Tom and Shirley how they had been searching and searching for jobs but had not found anything yet. They were worried about how they would be able to provide for their children.
“They stood there and just cried and cried,” Shirley said. She hears a lot about the problems people are facing and always tries to visit with the pantry visitors.
“Because we are small, we can sit down and talk with them,” Shirley said. “They are able to tell us their problems.” Many people are thankful to have someone to talk with and discuss the challenges they are facing. Tom and Shirley can’t always help with the problems, but they always listen and help if they can.
One additional way that Shirley tries to help people is by providing nutritional food. Just because people are poor doesn’t mean that they should have to eat unhealthy foods, she said. She works to provide healthy food for her clients, and she will also talk with the clients about ways they can serve nutritious meals to their families.
The Ray of Hope Food Pantry is currently accepting donations of Christmas items to hand out to local families, and Tom and Shirley hope to be able to help a large number of people this year. For Thanksgiving, Tom explained, they handed out boxes of Thanksgiving meal items to 24 families. That was in addition to the regular food boxes for 23 families that the pantry handed out in November.
And while Tom and Shirley work hard to help local families, they live on a limited income and a tight budget of their own. They are thankful for what they have, though, and don’t mind all of the hours and work they put in to keep the pantry running.
“I like it,” Tom said.
“It’s fun,” Shirley added.
The food pantry, which is located at 17082 Truetown Road, is open to families in need on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1-4 p.m. Area residents who would like to donate to the pantry can drop off items any time throughout the week. For more information, call 767-3728.