By Caitlin Cohn, Retail Program Supervisor
There are many parts of my job as the Retail Program Supervisor that I find rewarding, but nothing is more rewarding than days when our retail partners, Food Bank CENC staff, and a hardworking agency come together to feed those in need within our community.
On September 20th and 21st that happened. I was honored to work with nearly 20 Food Lion employee volunteers and our partner agency A Touch of the Father’s Love under Baker Family Ministries, to provide food, equipment, and hope to our neighbors in need throughout the Nash, Edgecombe, and Halifax County community.
Baker Family Ministry was nominated by Food Bank CENC staff to be one of Food Lion’s 2016 Great Pantry Makeover recipients for two reasons: their passion for fighting hunger, and how they share food and hope with thousands of people every month. Baker Family Ministry is run solely by loyal, hunger-fighting volunteers who are dedicated to giving back to their community. The volunteers have learned that the best way to give to yourself, is to give back to others. Food Lion’s Great Pantry Makeover granted them a generous $5,000 equipment purchase to build their storage capacity and efficiency. In turn, this will help Baker Family Ministry feed more families through their food pantry.
Food Lion, the Food Bank CENC, Baker Family Ministry’s Co-founder April Baker, and her second-in-command Henry carefully chose shelving, carts, stainless steel tables, paint, and other tools and equipment to help renovate their facility and give it a facelift.
Then the real magic began.
Day One: Tuesday September 20th, 2016
Food Lion, Food Bank CENC, and Baker Family Ministries began the pantry makeover at 9 a.m. The day was filled with putting together the equipment purchased, cleaning and organizing the Pet Food Pantry, sorting through and organizing the non-food product rooms (toiletries, hygiene products, toys, etc), and revamping the office space.
At lunch time we took a break to hear more about Baker Family Ministries and how food insecurity affects their local community of Battleboro, NC and the tri-county region (Nash, Edgecombe, and Halifax).
Food Lion was scheduled to end their volunteer shift by 2 p.m., but at 1:30pm they decided they wanted to take on an additional project and help further organize Baker Family Ministry’s non-food section. This was a room with large item donations that filled an entire garage size room. Not only did all Food Lion volunteers stay an extra 2 hours (until 4 p.m.!) to help clean this room, but they even called in a special request for a dumpster to help dispose of all the unusable donations and equipment that could not be salvaged. After a 7-hour volunteer shift, they had cleaned and organized EVERY corner of Baker Family Ministry’s building which was above and beyond what we had planned for the day.
Day Two: September 21st, 2016
Day Two was an eventful and emotional day as the morning started off with regularly scheduled food distribution to folks getting food from the pantry. Food Lion volunteers worked alongside Baker Family Ministries’ volunteers to pack boxes, bring them out to client’s cars, and talk directly with the clients that come to Baker Family Ministries for food assistance. These invaluable opportunities help bridge the gap between our retail partners who provide the food and the clients our food pantries serve. Together, they share stories and see how their donations directly reach the hands and mouths of families in need.
After the distribution, Food Lion surprised Baker Family Ministries with a food donation to help restock their shelves! The truck showed up and we unloaded it by hand, filling the pantry with shelf-stable products such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter, canned vegetables, breakfast foods, and more. Food Lion also awarded Baker Family Ministry a plaque as a 2016 Food Lion Great Pantry Makeover recipient.
Some of the most meaningful moments of the day were times when clients came in to share their stores and thank Food Lion for their donations. There were many senior citizens receiving food and they shared their stories and appreciation. An 89-year-old woman came in to speak. She thanked Food Lion and Baker Family Ministry for all of their dedication to feeding those in need, and April Baker presented her with a turkey. The woman was instantly overcome with emotion and gratitude, and there was a long line of Food Lion volunteers waiting to hug her and thank her for sharing her story.
Repeatedly, Food Lion employees said they were changed by this event. Now they know the needs of their community better and they see how they can play a further role in their community’s fight to end hunger. Some Food Lion staff have already planned days to come back to Baker Family Ministries to volunteer again, this time with their children by their side.
As a Food Bank employee, these types of events only further encourage us to keep working hard to source more food and distribute to our partner agencies as quickly and safely as possible. Days like these show us the importance of our partnerships and building relationships, and how heavily involved our retail partners are in our mission that no one goes hungry.