By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor
The Blessing Basket Food Pantry is growing, as is the need for assistance for some families. It offers a place to get food for the hungry and prayers to feed their souls.
Every other Saturday of each month, The Willard Church of God, 4551 Willard West Rd., and in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank, people who do not have enough food can go there from noon to 3 p.m. The next pantry date is Saturday, April 27.
They are given a form that list what food is available and mark what they need. Their order is filled and put into their vehicle by volunteers. There is no income eligibility requirements. Those getting food are asked to bring a photo ID, but if they do not have one, no one is turned away.
“The Blessing Bank Food Pantry exists to enhance and supplement other benevolence programs in the area,” noted Pastor Gregory Griffith, senior pastor at the Willard Church of God. “We serve a portion of a community that may not be able to visit other pantries because of work or babysitting schedules by opening on weekends, which few pantries do in Ohio.”
According to Griffith, the Blessing Basket will also help families on an emergency basis. That help is available by calling Griffith as director or administrator Tim Wilson at 419-554-9202.
“The Blessing Basket serves anyone in Ohio,” noted Griffith. “Not just the Willard area because hunger knows no bounds, no borders.”
Wilson said anyone coming to the pantry should be prepared for a crowd. During the last two pantries, he said people were standing outside waiting.
“I prayed for it to get this big,” Wilson explained. “I really believe that here sometime in the summer we will be seeing 1,200 to 1,400 people.”
While their orders are being filled, there is a big screen television in the lobby. Wilson said there are snacks available some days for children.
“It kind of helps with the kids,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a wait. So many people come.”
Wilson praised the team of volunteers who give their time to help. At the last open Saturday, there were 28 volunteers.
“We could’ve used more,” he noted. “We needed a couple more for other jobs that needed done here.”
Those volunteers are coming from four different area churches.
“It’s really a great thing to see our community coming together, as well as the community outside of here,” Wilson pointed out for the last pantry day. “We served six counties and 15 cities.”
Wilson said the community responds to help fill the shelves and freezers. Many people want to make a monetary donation. One of the churches has donated money to buy toiletries.
“All this comes together,” he explained. “We buy most of our foodstuffs through Second Harvest Food Pantry.
“People say your food bank is different,” Wilson added. “I am the administrator, and I do the ordering. When we don’t have deliveries, I will pick it up.”
At one point, Wilson said he was in the same place as those who come for help at the food pantry. He knows the feelings of those who have to ask for help.
“I was embarrassed,” he recalled. “I didn’t want people that knew me to know I was there for food.
“I was looking at that aspect,” Wilson explained. “When people come in here, first of all we tell them, ‘we love you.’ We want them to be here. We want them to be able to come twice a month if they need it.”
Some who come to the Blessing Basket ask for prayer, according to Wilson. At the beginning there is a voluntary prayer with those who want to participate. Some who choose not to participate simply walk outside and return after the prayer.
“We don’t want to force things on to them,” he pointed out. “We welcome them. We want them to know when they come to our pantry, we want them to talk to us and to be comfortable. That is why we turn the TV on.”
Buying food through Second Harvest, Wilson said, allows them to pay “pennies on the dollar” to stock the local shelves.
“We knew there was a need because we see the Willard Food Bank,” he said. “We see the Shiloh Food Bank. There are constantly people there. We decided to do this on Saturdays because of the working people. It’s really worked out great.”
The Steuben Church of God takes care of toiletries for people. Carly Cuevas said several times a month, parishioners collect food to bring to the Blessing Basket. On the third Sunday, they collect toiletries.
“We have cleaning supplies we put on a cart,” Cuevas pointed out. “These are things you can’t buy on food stamps. These are necessities.”
Wilson said Cuevas has taken over the senior program. It is for people 60 years of age or older who get senior boxes.
“They are 130% of the poverty level,” he pointed out. “Just on that program alone, it has to be in Huron County. That gives our seniors around here a chance to have more food. We do 61 boxes.”
Wilson said the programs within the Blessing Basket are based on what is seen as the needs within the community. Seven months ago, the pantry fed 56 people.
“In February, we fed 401,” he noted. “Last month, we jumped up to 717 people fed. If you figure that up, we fed over 16,000 meals in the last seven months to families that needed it.”
“It’s about helping them out,” Wilson explained. “They come up and hug you with tears in their eyes and say, ‘Because of you helping us out twice a month, I can now, instead of worrying about feeding my kids, I can now go pay a bill or pay a partial bill.’ That means a lot to hear people say that.”
While they ask for a photo ID, Wilson said if someone does not have one, they are not turned away from being helped. The Blessing Basket is working with area law enforcement agencies and hospitals to be available when there is an immediate need.
“It’s a really good team effort,” Cuevas pointed out. “We’ve all worked together really well. We all know what we are doing.”
Cuevas said the pantry will accept donations from groups or churches. Nothing outdated or dented is accepted.
There is, however, a need that can be filled by anyone. Wilson said they need more volunteers.
“We do need donations from the public,” he added. “With us increasing in numbers, the churches have been real good about what they give.”
The Blessing Basket will give people making donations the tax ID number. It is a religious non-profit organization.
The pantry dates for the next several months include the following:
- April 27;
- May 11 and 25;
- June 8 and 29;
- July 13 and 27;
- August 3 and 17, and
- September 7 and 21.
Wilson said Griffith wanted to work on feeding some local families. That was his vision.
“With his vision of feeding these families, it has grown into this,” he pointed out. “It’s beyond what his expectations were. He didn’t think it would be this big. And, it’s going to get bigger.
“People will tell me, ‘Your pantry is awesome,’” Wilson said. “I say, I have one thing to say about that. It’s not my pantry. It’s not the church’s pantry. This is God’s pantry. That’s the way we all believe in it.”