On a bitterly cold February evening, 80 cars were lined up to receive boxes of food from the Pantry on the Corner operated by Journey Church, a 40-member congregation in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
That night, the Evangelical Covenant Church congregation gave away enough food to feed 259 individuals, says pastor Jeanette Brown.
The ministry is a sign that small congregations can make a big difference, says Brown. “People say they don’t know what they would do without our ministry. The table is what takes the hit. After people have paid their bills, there’s nothing left over.”
Many of the families receiving assistance didn’t need it prior to the pandemic. That changed when parents lost their jobs or were forced to quit in order to stay home with their children.
Needs go beyond food to toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other items. Brown adds, “When we are able to give people diapers, they just cry.”
One man told volunteers that he looked forward to the distribution day for reasons beyond getting food. Through tears, he gets a few moments to talk with them about his wife of 60 years who died recently.
Prior to the pandemic, the pantry operated three days a week. People could come into the church and pick out food and other supplies such as paper goods. Back then, 12 to 15 families might come in each week.
The distribution now happens on Monday nights in the church parking lot. Due to social distancing requirements, roughly 25 volunteers work in three shifts outside to pack and hand out the boxes. Sometimes they light fires to keep warm.
Brown posts videos on Facebook to encourage people to come get assistance if they need it.
The church receives most of the food from the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank. They spend several days a week seeking donations and getting boxes in which they can pack the food. Some businesses also donate items.
Brown says she hopes to increase the partnerships with other organizations that can provide additional needed services to pantry recipients.
The church is seeking funds and labor to build a garage to hold all of the goods.
They recently experienced a setback when they tried to replace their old freezers. They were able to purchase two new ones—only to realize they wouldn’t fit through the church door. Expanding the entryway will cost $3,000, Brown says. The church’s entire annual budget for the pantry is $5,000. The refrigerators are still in their boxes while the church seeks a solution.
Brown says she expects the need to continue long after a vaccine makes it safer for people to socialize and return to work. The church is determined that The Pantry on the Corner will be there for them.