Quercus Grove Food Pantry is a labor of love at a time of Thanksgiving

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Just over 10 years ago, Lew and Mary Gordon of near Quercus Grove attended a meeting of the small congregation at the Quercus Grove United Methodist Church. The topic of the meeting was whether or not the church wanted to begin a community outreach program to help provide food and other supplies for those with a need.

“The pastor at the time, Janet Jacobs, asked if I’d help get it up and running,” Lew Gordon said. “I said yes and that was 10 years ago and I’m still here.”

“We were there and we said we’d help,” Mary Gordon said. “It started out with 11 families, and we were working out of the kitchen at the church. It just expanded to this.”

“This” is now a once a month organized effort to provide food and supplies, including over the counter medications, to Switzerland County families. What once involved 11 families in the church kitchen has now expanded to more than 150 families being helped with the addition of two trailers – one for storage and one for distribution. The church basement is also used for storage, and large freezers line the walls.

The Quercus Grove Food Pantry opens its doors through the faithfulness of a dedicated group of volunteers on the third Sunday of each month. Following federal guidelines that were provided by SIEOC, the Gordons and other volunteers work to see who’s eligible for help, using the approved income scale that slides based on the number of people in a household.

Anyone in Switzerland County who meets the guidelines is eligible.

Distribution is done beginning at 11 a.m.; with those in need waiting inside the church until their number is called. At that point they move over to the distribution trailer, where shelves of canned goods are available for their choosing; along with everything from juice to cereals to dried fruit.

Another area gives families access to over the counter medications and cleaning supplies; and the final stop provides choices of meats. If available, other items are distributed outside the trailers.

Distribution usually ends about 2 p.m.; but if there are still families waiting in the church, it continues until all have been helped. The Gordons also help people on an emergency basis as needed.

So far in November the food pantry has helped 152 families – with the biggest month ever being November of last year, when 157 families were assisted.

Commodities come to the food pantry through SIEOC, and the Gordons make trips to the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati on a regular basis to purchase bulk foods and over the counter medications for the distribution. Meat products are purchased through Vevay SuperValu.

And where does the money come from to buy this food? Through donations and the generosity of people.

“It takes everybody pulling together to make this thing happen,” Lew Gordon said.

Other food that is distributed comes from a variety of sources.

Early this week, officers from the PTO at Switzerland County Elementary School brought more than 1,000 cans of food for the food pantry; as children brought in items to donate. Canned food drives are also held at Jefferson-Craig Elementary; the middle school; and the high school – and the Switzerland County FFA donates the proceeds of its “Homeless Project” to the food pantry.

The county is currently participating in a “Feed the Pig” promotion, where ceramic pigs have been placed in schools and in other locations by Switzerland County Farm Bureau, Inc. It is a goal to raise $1,000 through that promotion, and those funds will stay here at the food pantry to help those in need.

The seven extension homemakers groups in Switzerland County are also part of the effort, working to raise funds and trying to get a state match for those funds.

There are also donations of money, items, and time from local churches and individuals – as well as organized groups within Switzerland County.

“We get donations from the Vevay-Switzerland County Foundation and the Community Foundation of Switzerland County, both of which have been very generous in helping us,” Lew Gordon said. “The United Fund of Switzerland County is also a big supporter; as are churches and others.”

Lew and Mary Gordon have also seen the individual sacrifice of those young and old to help others.

“We had a woman come for the first time this month, and she was really reluctant to come,” Lew Gordon said. “It was her first time to come here and get help, and she came because her husband had his work cut back, and his weekly paycheck barely pays their rent. She told us that her 10-year old son had a dollar saved up, and he was going to take it to school and put it in the Feed the Pig jar – not knowing that his own family would be helped by it. That’s what makes all of this so special.”

The donations of volunteers become very important at times when federal assistance may be reduced.

“When Hurricane Katrina hit, our commodities shriveled to almost nothing.” Mary Gordon said. “We got a couple of cases of grapefruit juice, and that was all.”

Each month the Gordons contact a group of volunteers to come and assist with the distribution; and it’s also a family matter, as family members of Lew and Mary Gordon travel to Quercus Grove from the Cincinnati area to help.

At the core, however, is a dedicated group of folks who are there each and every month, trying to fulfill the church’s mission of providing an outreach to those in need.

People like Tuffy and Freda Walker, Bernie and Gladys Hunt, Carolyn Green, and John and Paulina Scudder work tirelessly to keep things running.

Robin and Joan Hochstrasser pick up the meat products from Vevay SuperValu on the Friday before distribution and bring it out to the pantry; and Cheryl Janes and Julia Hazeldean are always available to help with everything from unloading boxes to helping with the distribution.

Nelson McClure’s mission is to break down all of the cardboard boxes that accumulate so that they can be easily recycled.

There are also individuals who could qualify for food, but instead come and help with whatever is needed.

“There are so many people who help us, I know we’re leaving people out,” Lew Gordon said. “But it’s a blessing that people care enough to come and help.”

As the need grows, so does the number of families waiting in the church for assistance. Because that wait can sometimes be rather long, the Gordons have been making arrangements for entertainment while people wait. Different groups have volunteered their time to entertain in the church; and in January a group of kids who have a Bluegrass band from Warsaw, Kentucky is coming.

There have also been some programs on health benefits, with Barbara Fletcher of the Family Nutrition Program giving sessions on different ways to cook foods and making them healthier.

“Many of the clients bring their children, so we try and provide books and things for the kids to do,” Lew Gordon said. “And we also try and provide them with something to eat and drink while they are waiting.”

There is also personal counseling available, as volunteers like Paulina and John Scudder, Bill Madison, and Quercus Grove pastor Keith Chanley are there in case someone needs to talk or has a problem.

“We’ve even had some clients use the church to get married in, so that’s pretty neat,” Lew Gordon said.

So why do the Gordons continue to head such a large project?

“There’s nobody else to do it,” Lew Gordon says with a laugh. “There are times when it gets pretty hard on us. We’re both 71 years old now. Last week we drove to Cincinnati and picked up 6,100 pounds of commodities, and the truck was really loaded down. By the time we got back, we had to unload it in the dark, but people knew we were coming and they were there to help, so it got done.”

Although church attendance is not a requirement in anyway for the folks at Quercus Grove to help out, Mary Gordon says that the church has seen a change in the clients over the years.

“Sometimes clients would sit and bicker with each other,” she said. “But they don’t anymore. They are very appreciative and they try and help each other. If someone has a big garden, they’ll bring in things to share. People really want to help each other.”

Although the Gordons have been spearheading this effort for more than a decade now, both step back if the focus turns to them.

“It’s really the work of the Lord,” Lew Gordon says. “If it wasn’t for Him, all of this wouldn’t work. It’s all committed to Him, we’re just here to do what He wants us to.”

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Need help? Anyone who would like to see if they qualify for assistance may do so in a variety of ways. They may contact their township trustee; SIEOC; LifeTime Resources; or they can call Lew and Mary Gordon. Help is available on a temporary basis to meet short-term needs; and also for those who have more long term situations.

– Pat Lanman