1,500 line up for free food, priceless advice in Youngstown

By Sean Barron



Cecelia Hargrove was happy to receive plenty of free food that included muffin mix and cold cereal, but for her, the sweetest aspect was the entire package.

“I felt that I should check it out. It’s truly a blessing to see so many smiling faces and dedicated volunteers who never give up and who help others less fortunate,” the Youngstown woman observed.

She was referring to the variety of food and other offerings available during Saturday’s sixth annual food distribution drive at the Covelli Centre, downtown.

The effort also will provide several days’ worth of meals for Hargrove, her grandchildren and other family members while “saving me money that I can use for something else,” she added.

She was among an estimated 1,500 individuals and families who took home free boxes or bags of food that also included bags of rolled oats, stuffing mix, kidney beans, pancake mix and rice, cans of soup, pasta sauce and vegetables, boxes of macaroni and cheese, beef pasta and spaghetti and apple juice as part of the three-hour gathering themed “Fighting Together.”

Sponsoring the food giveaway was NOW Youngstown, a six-year-old faith-based organization dedicated to instilling hope, establishing greater unity and helping to rebuild communities largely by ministering, providing outreach and hosting events in some of the city’s high-crime areas.

For the giveaway, NOW Youngstown partnered with Dare to Dream, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, CIRV (Community Initiative to Reduce Violence) and about 20 area churches, noted the Rev. Rolando Rojas, pastor of Spanish Evangelical Church in Youngstown.

Saturday’s effort also was aimed at battling the opioid epidemic, as well as fighting against crime and violence, he added.

“Our message today is to stop the violence and increase the peace. There are drugs in a lot of the families we touch on a weekly basis,” the Rev. Mr. Rojas explained.

A big problem in many such families is that money that should be spent on food is used to buy drugs, a tragic set of circumstances that often leads to a shortage of food for children, he said.

Another major food-related challenge for some is that they have poor access to healthful choices or run out of money before the end of the month, largely because they had to spend it on other priorities, noted Guy Burney, CIRV’s coordinator.

“Everybody needs to work together so that our community can grow, be healthier and stronger,” he said.

The food drive also was part of a holistic attempt to offer wrap-around services such as educational opportunities to “help the total person,” said the Rev. Cornell Jordan, pastor of Metro Assembly of God on the South Side.

The event had about 20 social organizations and other vendors that provided a slew of services such as information about men’s Bible study mentoring, tips on effective fathering techniques, ways to keep children and teens safe and drug-free and a Christian-based 12-step recovery program and support group to help those struggling with drugs and alcohol as well as anger, grief, resentment, anxiety, stress, divorce and co-dependency.

Also available were prayer tents, live music, dental-care and mammography vehicles and opportunities to register to vote. In addition, attendees were able to share personal testimonials.

It is hoped that recipients will supplement their free food with the available resources – especially in light of the opioid problem, which has torn many families apart, observed Rick Suarez, part of a volunteer team from Victory Christian Center in Coitsville.

He expressed gratitude to those who volunteered, including about 20 people from his congregation. Suarez added that he hopes the giveaway will bring added happiness to the attendees while showing them concern and compassion.

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