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Pandemic won’t stop food pantry

Operation Blessing continues helping families in need throughout the year

CANFIELD — Canfield’s Operation Blessing has a by-the-numbers approach to feeding families year-round, but 2020 is different from its past three decades.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a new approach, with less help, and some people who may be in need are leery of venturing out.

The organization had its pre-Thanksgiving food giveaway on Thursday, and more than 100 families and individuals received food and a whole chicken for their Thanksgiving meal.

While the number of vehicles was close to normal, Operation Blessing Director Julie Kercher explained how this year has been different.

“We’ve dropped in numbers by around 10 to 20 families this year,” Kercher said. “I believe it is due to COVID-19.”

Operation Blessing does operate year-round, helping people every month. When the pandemic hit, Kercher said it seemed that some didn’t want to venture out and the numbers helped by the nonprofit decreased a little. Even volunteers needed to pass out the food were down.

While there is a list of 50 volunteers, Kercher said she feels good when she has 15 show up.

SINCE 1986

Operation Blessing has been helping area families for a long time.

It was started in 1986 by Mary Price, and in the early 1990s was headed by Betty Brindiar. Kercher took the helm when Brindiar died after running the food pantry for some 20 years.

Over the years, the program was improved upon. Families as well as individuals are prescreened for the assistance that Operation Blessing provides. Often a family or individual is referred by local churches.

Once approved, the family or individual shows up on the third Thursday of each month to receive food to help them get through the month.

Kercher said the pantry has two freezers in the basement of Canfield Presbyterian Church on West Main Street. The church also gave Operation Blessing several rooms to store and package food staples.

Food is secured through monetary donations and purchases made at Rulli Brothers, which Kercher said gives the non-profit a good rate.

“We order from them (Rulli’s) three times a year and they give us the best price possible,” Kercher said.

As for collections, Lord of Life Lutheran, Western Reserve United Methodist, Canfield United Methodist, St. Michael Catholic Church and the Canfield Presbyterian Church all help bring in donated foods and monetary help.

Bags are packed according to numbers in the families. There are numbers one through four and shelves at the food pantry that are set up for pre-packaged bags.

Last week, volunteers met and packed bags and placed them on the shelves. Kercher said she uses any volunteer help, be it Y-teens or helpers from Canfield High School, or pre-schoolers who have come in and helped with adult guidance.

The bags are packed with specific items that are on the Operation Blessing list of needs. The list includes apple sauce, Bisquick, canned corn, dish soap, canned green beans, grape jelly, mac-n-cheese, pancake mix, peanut butter, pork-n-beans, instant potatoes, quick oats, rice, soup (Ramen noodles), spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, syrup, and canned tuna. Other items are purchased through monetary donations and include items such as whole chickens and fresh bread. It can also include fresh items such as apples and cider from local farms.

Prescreening for participants is still being done, but if an unregistered family shows up, it will leave with some food.

“Everyone who comes to us gets food,” she said. “If someone comes for the first time, we consider it an emergency.”

DRIVE UP

This year Operation Blessing has vehicles pull up under the church archway where volunteers bring the food out and load it with no contact, and all wearing masks.

For Christmas and Thanksgiving, each family will get a whole chicken. While that is the norm for the program, another annual piece may have to be canceled this year. Kercher said each year at Christmas there are toy donations that are lined up on tables in an upstairs room. Parents could go through the tables and select toys for their children. With the COVID-19 rules, Kercher said that may have to be canceled for 2020.

Another regular section was a table with canned and non-perishable goods on it, where those being helped could select what they wanted. This too will be dropped as those helped are asked to not leave their car this year.

While some things will be cut for 2020, one final organization that Operation Blessing helps will continue to see that assistance. The “Rise Above the River” program has taken people living under bridges in Mahoning County and set them up in a home. Operation Blessing sends food to those homes to help.

Running the food pantry takes a lot of work, but Kercher said it is rewarding. Her sister Jill Kercher has been involved for a while, too, and expects to continue as long as she can.

“I do it because I think this is what we are supposed to do. It is what Jesus said we should do,” Jill said.

jtwhitehouse@tribtoday.com

Donate

For those wishing to mail a donation: Canfield Operation Blessing, P.O. Box 652, Canfield, OH, 44406. Canfield Operation Blessing helps families and individuals throughout Mahoning County.

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