Friday, July 16, 2010

“Feed My People – The Mission Continues”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

When I was a retail manager in Chardon, my job involved not only providing basic customer service, but also maintaining good public relations.

I took the responsibility seriously. Whenever opportunities appeared to ‘connect’ with organizations in the community, I tried to open a line of dialogue.

It was a strategy that I believed would help benefit everyone.

During that time, I met an energetic woman named Chris Hrapko. She approached my store with an interesting proposal – to turn leftover goods into helpful donations for disadvantaged citizens. This was the foundation of her group ‘Feed My People.’

Chris called her volunteers ‘food angels.’ I was struck by the faith and persistence she displayed.

Eventually, I lobbied my employer to support her charitable efforts. As a result, we enjoyed a long period of cooperation on behalf of the poor in Geauga County.

Chris and I lost day-to-day contact when my career direction changed. Yet fond memories of her ‘total person’ approach to addressing poverty remained.

We shared the belief that simply dispensing food and monetary assistance was not enough. The root causes of poverty – family breakup, social alienation, and a lack of life skills – had not been ‘cured’ by traditional programs.

‘Love’ was the missing component. I took much inspiration from what we had achieved together.

For a few years, our conversations were limited to those enjoyed during chance encounters around the area. Then, I received a message that had me holding my breath:

“Hope this finds you well and happy. It has been a long journey of faith for Feed My People Inc. (We need) to get the word out about us to ask if any of the owners of rental space in the community would be willing to tax write off the rent for us to help us to remain in service for those in need. Please let me know if you can help.”

I remembered that FMP had been associated with two different churches in Chardon, at one time or another. It seemed likely that the prevailing economic downturn had made their situation more difficult than before. As donations have become more scarce, unemployment soared. The result has been challenging for benevolent groups across the nation. I guessed that it was no different right here at home.

Chris sent a brochure to refresh my memory about the project. I read it while trying to think of helpful ideas:

“Feed My People Inc. is a full and in good standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has voluntarily and faithfully served the community for over a decade. This organization started as a grassroots effort by an individual in the 1990’s growing out of a desire not to waste Lenten fish fry foods.

Feed My People (FMP) is an outreach ministry of the community that is supported by many diversified faiths, civic organizations, businesses and individuals. Volunteers redistribute perishable, non-perishable and non-food items to those in need and to the other agencies that provide care for them.

FMP operates through the tradition of faith, offering comfort and aid for the total person. We satisfy family hunger through physical, emotional and spiritual support. The program provides consumable items, personal care products, floral gifts, friendship, poems and prayers. Clothing and furniture are also distributed when available.

We address needs on a case by case basis. FMP serves the community where other systems are unable to fully assist due to income guidelines or lack of funds. When (an) individual’s specific needs exceed our capacity, we link them to a network or other agencies and follow up on the situation at a later date.

We hope to obtain donated rental space that would allow us to continue to feed people in need that might otherwise have no where else to turn due to income guidelines or lack of funds. Since FMP deals with both perishable and non-perishable food sources we also need to obtain a donated restaurant quality freezer and refrigerator or if possible walk in coolers and freezers in the best case scenario… FMP desires to serve with all faiths in the combined effort to address homelessness.”

After revisiting the FMP story, I pondered their situation.

“What about the former Convenient Food Mart on Cherry Street?” I wondered out loud, while sitting at my desk. “Or one of the pizzerias that have closed?”

I imagined that an owner of vacant commercial property might welcome the opportunity to see their space used in such a beneficial way. Unused locations were everywhere.

The only question – how to make it happen?

My thoughts finally turned to a memorable quote from Pope John Paul II:

“Christian love is more than an act of charity. It is an encounter with Christ himself, in the poor.”

Postscript: Tax deductible cash contributions and inquiries can be mailed to Feed My People Inc. at 401 South St. #4B, P.O. Box 82, Chardon, OH 44024

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