Food Pantries Food Security

Barn Raising: How to Rebuild America

I recently took an amazing trip to Middle America to see how genuine grass roots efforts come together to help others in time of need. It was cold that morning in Cincinnati, Ohio, when we arrived at 5 AM to help and thank volunteers as they unloaded an 18-wheeler refrigerated trailer filled with food from Angel Food Ministries. Cold doesn’t quite describe the weather, as we pulled into the parking lot of the Overflow Ministries. With every breath we took, clouds escaped our mouths, and the propane heaters became the central gathering place for our small group watching the devoted unload and organize the 1250 individual orders that arrived earlier that morning.

We were cold, but the atmosphere was nothing but warm. There were no fewer than 50 people of all walks, races and beliefs on the truck, moving the lifts, passing the boxes, yelling out the destinations, organizing the orders and loading smaller cars. Gloved hands, covered heads, overalls and scarves, but the assembly line moves effortlessly, impervious to the cold some of us were feeling. They all came out for the single belief that volunteerism and food relief are essential parts of life. It made us warm inside.

These brave soldiers gather once a month to help bring affordable, quality food to families that may otherwise have less. What came to mind was the sense of community, the sense of willingness and the belief that there is a world out there where people want to help people do better. The urgent calling felt within these men and women we watched was reminiscent of an old fashioned Amish barn building – not really old fashioned to the Amish today. The community gathered to help others, giving up sleep on a cold winter morning, and then giving up half of their day away from work as well, to answer the call of wholesome friendliness.

It was something else to see, as I have rarely seen a coming together like this. It happens every month, in over 5000 communities, across 39 states.

We traveled then to the rural town of West Union, Ohio, where we all had a laugh as our car passed a road sign directing us to “Corn Hole City”. Our joviality quickly turned from a childish laugh to sincere cheer as we turned into the huge driveway of the West Union Church of Christ and saw this group, relatively new at Angel Food’s distribution network, and saw for the first time there, their own truckload of nearly 780 orders of food. Beginning in September 0f 2008, they were driving to Cincinnati to pick up their orders, and now have built up to have their very own truck.

Men and women unloaded and organized, while others were setting up the assembly line of groceries inside the building’s hallway. In the huge kitchen, volunteers were fed from homemade been stew, pies, Hershey’s candies and Wal-Mart doughnuts and drinks. It was more than a job, but an event. People, older and young, children and parents, all from the surrounding area came by to help, talk, play and pack. It was something they looked forward to, and something they have now come to expect. Much like the Friday night football games that draw a community together for a cause, Angel Food is more than just a source of nourishment for these people, but a destination to help make them a family.

Barn Raising: That is what these people and hundreds of thousands across the country are doing with this phenomenon of Angel Food Ministries, and that is how people used to do it when the country was still young. People helping people together achieve greater heights than when we work to just help ourselves.

Our trip to Ohio was meant as a good will visit to let the kind volunteers know that they are appreciated and that their work is sacred. It turned out that way, but we were the ones instilled with the sense of appreciation for the acts that still go on in cities, towns and villages all over. Somehow the coldness no longer chilled, as the beauty and warmth we saw drew us closer to a sense of comfort.

The New York Times ran a story the other day, its headline read, “Newly Poor Swell Lines at Food Banks Nationwide.” This predicament today in our country to have a class now designated as the “Newly Poor” is chilling enough without the frigid air circling. Imagine how quickly we can all warm up if more people took the time to build a barn together. It may sound simplistic, but we rebuild with one brick at a time, and every one of Angel Food’s volunteers is a needed brick.

As we flew away, the chill came back to our group. We know that there is a big job ahead of us, with so much that has broken these past months. There are millions of barns to be raised and it will take every brick to build them.

Juda Engelmayer is President and Partner with the NY PR agency, HeraldPR

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