By jessica hardin
The worship room at Spanish Evangelical Church is typically filled with seated parishioners, but Tuesday, dozens of volunteers flanked by towers of boxes and cans used the space for an assembly line.
“It’s a multipurpose room, but today it’s a warehouse,” quipped Rolando Rojas, pastor of Spanish Evangelical.
Tuesday evening, volunteers gathered to prepare grocery boxes to be distributed Saturday at the Covelli Centre, where CIRV (Community Initiative to Reduce Violence) Youngstown and NOW Youngstown, in partnership with Dare to Dream, are hosting “Fighting Together.”
The event, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., aims to fight the drug epidemic by providing support to local families. In addition to featuring music and games, “Fighting Together” will connect families to social-service organizations in the area.
The first 1,500 families who register for the event at the Covelli Centre will receive the grocery boxes that were assembled Tuesday.
Saturday’s festivities will mark the sixth year for the event and the first year that its sponsors will be distributing food. The decision to do so is in direct response to an Aug. 2 report released by the Food Resources & Action Center, which identifies the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area as the second-highest food insecure area in the nation.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What is the greatest need right now?’” Pastor Rojas stated.
The city’s religious and political leaders see a connection between Youngstown’s struggle with food insecurity and opioid abuse.
“From the statistics we have seen, a lot of families that have been struggling are families that have issues with drugs,” Pastor Rojas noted.
DeMaine Kitchen, city council president, echoed that sentiment. “When parents are addicted, kids are neglected,” he said.
Tuesday’s volunteers hailed from various local parishes and were united by their desire to improve the community.
Sandy Breidenstein of Youngstown explained, “I’m here to help out. I love my city, and I want to do whatever I can to make it a better place.”
Nettie McDowell of Struthers echoed Breidenstein’s sentiment. “We love our city. We want to teach our kids about giving.”
The event’s organizers recognize that working together will yield the largest impact.
“You can be a megachurch, but you’ll never win a whole city by yourself. You need a network,” Pastor Rojas explained.
“Look at what we have here today,” he stated as he gestured to the diverse group in the room.
The spirit of collaboration shared by volunteers extends to include the organizations that have donated resources to make “Fighting Together” possible.
More than 20 vendors, social-service organizations and mental-health agencies have agreed to donate time and resources for Saturday’s event.
Though the event promises fun and nourishment, it aims to have lasting effects on the families that attend.
Stephanie Gordon, a board member of NOW Youngstown, spoke to this hope when she led a prayer before the volunteers commenced work.
“Let this not be just a one-stop time to get food. Let this be a life-changing encounter,” she said.