CANFIELD – Operation Blessing Canfield has a by-the-numbers approach to feeding families year-round, but 2020 is different from its last three decades.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a new approach, with a little help, and some people who might need it are suspicious of getting out.
The organization held a pre-Thanksgiving meal distribution on Thursday, and more than 100 families and individuals received whole meals and chickens for their Thanksgiving meal.
While vehicle numbers are close to normal, Thanks to Operations Director Julie Kercher explains how this year has been different.
“Our numbers have decreased by about 10 to 20 families this year,” said Kercher. “I believe it is because of COVID-19.”
Operation Blessing operates all year round, helping people every month. As the pandemic hit, Kercher said it appeared some did not want to leave and the number assisted by nonprofits decreased slightly. Even volunteers need to distribute food.
Although there is a list of 50 volunteers, Kercher says he feels good when he has 15 people in attendance.
Operation Blessing has been helping families in the area for a long time.
It was started in 1986 by Mary Price, and in the early 1990s led by Betty Brindiar. Kercher took over the helm when Brindiar died after running the food pantry for about 20 years.
Over the years, the program was improved. Families and individuals are screened in advance for assistance provided by Operation Blessing. Often a family or individual is referred by the local church.
Once approved, the family or individual appears on the third Thursday of each month to receive food to help them 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 for storing and packing groceries.
Food is secured through monetary donations and purchases made at Rulli Brothers, which Kercher says gives the non-profit a good fare.
“We order from them (Rulli) three times a year and they give us the best price,” said Kercher.
The collections include Lord of Life Lutheran, Western Reserve United Methodist, Canfield United Methodist, St. Catholic Church. Michael and Canfield Presbyterian Church all helped bring in food donations and financial aid.
Bags are packed according to the number of family members. There are numbers one through four and shelves in the kitchen that are prepared for pre-packed bags.
Last week, volunteers met and packed bags and put them on shelves. Kercher says she uses any volunteer help, be it a Y-teen or a helper from Canfield Middle School, or preschoolers who come in and help with adult mentoring.
The bags are packed with special items that were on the Blessing Operation’s need list. The list includes applesauce, Bisquick, canned corn, dish soap, canned green beans, grape jelly, mac-n cheese, pancake mix, peanut butter, pork-n-pea, instant potato, quick oats, rice, soup (Ramen noodles), spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, syrup, and canned tuna. Other items were purchased through monetary donations and included items such as whole chickens and fresh bread. This can also include fresh goods such as apples and cider from local farms.
Prescreening for participants is still being carried out, but if an unregistered family appears, they will leave with food.
“Everyone who comes to us has food,” he said. “If someone comes for the first time, we consider it an emergency.”
This year Operation Blessing has a vehicle that stops under the church gates where volunteers unload food and load it without contact, all wearing masks.
For Christmas and Thanksgiving, every family will have a whole chicken. While that is the norm for the program, other annual works may have to be canceled this year. Kercher said every year at Christmas there are donations of toys lined up on the table in the upstairs room. Parents can check the table and select toys for their children. With COVID-19 regulations, Kercher said it may have to be canceled for 2020.
Another common area is a table with canned, non-perishable food on it, where those being helped can choose what they want. It will also be canceled as those being assisted are asked not to leave their cars this year.
While some things will be halted for 2020, one final organization to be assisted by Operation Blessing will continue to see that assistance. The “Rise Above the River” program has taken people living under a bridge in Mahoning County and placed them in a home. Operation Blessing delivered food to the houses to help.
Running a food kitchen takes a lot of work, but Kercher says it’s rewarding. Her sister Jill Kercher has been involved for a while, too, and hopes to continue it for as long as she can.
“I did it because I thought this is what we have to do. That’s what Jesus said we should do, ”said Jill.
For those wishing to make a donation: Canfield Operation Blessing, PO Box 652, Canfield, OH, 44406. Canfield Operation Blessing helps families and individuals throughout Mahoning County.
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