By Jordan Cohen
The economy may be turning around, but many Mahoning Valley residents apparently are still hurting.
That might explain why hundreds lined up in the parking lot of the Covelli Centre hours in advance of the start of the Third Annual “Goodness Invasion” food giveaway sponsored by New Life Church of Poland on Saturday.
“It means a great deal to us because without it, we wouldn’t have very much,” said one of the recipients, Dawn Towner, 44, of Pulaski, Pa., the guardian of a 14-year old girl. “This will really help us out over the next few days.”
Juan Rivera, 37, church pastor, said New Life expected to provide food for 3,000 area families by the time the five-hour giveaway concluded Saturday afternoon.
“That’s more than 6,000 people we can help,” said the pastor of the 600-member church.
“We do this with no strings attached as part of our mission to the community and the world at large.”
More than 300 church volunteers arrived at the parking lot by 4 a.m. where five trucks loaded with 200,000 pounds of food were waiting. Three of the semis contained produce donated by Youngstown’s Second Harvest Food Bank while the other two brought nonperishable foods, including pasta, rice and cereal.
“We donated 150,000 pounds of produce, all of it from Ohio farmers,” said Mike Iberis, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley executive director. “One pound of this produce [corn, cabbage and potatoes] would probably cost around $1.60 at retail.” That would make the total value of the donated produce $240,000.
Volunteers wearing lime-green jerseys sorted the food into identical packages for each recipient and assisted many by helping carry the groceries to their cars. Several handed out pastries to those waiting in line.
“This feels awesome,” said Charlie Mae Moss, 57, of Youngstown, a church member who has been a volunteer packer since the program began three years ago. “Praise God, it makes me feel good to do something for someone else.”
Recipients were required to have photo identification, but Rivera said other identification was accepted, and no one was turned away.
“We don’t check to see if someone is really in need,” said Rivera. “People wouldn’t stand in line like this a couple of hours for a few boxes of groceries if they weren’t.”
Those in line were quick to agree.
“This is a blessing for people who aren’t working,” said Tina Bulatko, 41, of Boardman, who described herself as “actively looking for more opportunities in the job market,” while Jimmy Boykin, 49, Campbell, said it was the second year in a row he had to take advantage of the church’s generosity.
“I’m unemployed, and I can’t afford to buy this food,” Boykin said.
“This is a chance for me to have some fresh veggies, and I don’t qualify for food stamps,” said Carol Seawood, a Youngstown State University student. “Students need to eat, too.”
Rivera explained that New Life Church budgets only $25,000 for the “Goodness Invasion” and relies on donations from its world missions, businesses and community organizations such as Second Harvest. “The response is absolutely awesome,” the pastor said. “It’s amazing we can do this on such a low budget.”
Rivera said his church, which runs a monthly food pantry that distributes more than 1,000 bags of groceries to nearly 400 area families, expects to have another massive food giveaway next year.
“We do this to bless the community,” he said.