Welcome to the Smith Chapel Food and Clothing Ministry

Video thanks to Athens County Jobs & Family Service, by Charles J. Dorsey

The pantry was born in 2000 when members of Smith Chapel United Methodist Church started selling used clothing for pennies to needy people. Before long they were bringing in canned goods and giving food to those who needed the clothes. It was then that volunteer Dannie Devol got the idea to expand.

"We had a food bank locally and I wanted to see if we qualified to get the food which, at that time, was 16 cents a pound." As a nonprofit organization, they qualified for discounted food from the regional food bank, which also provided free staples such as bread and produce. "So we took a little money out of the treasury and we got started," says Devol. With some church funds and additional contributions from the Devol family, a food-for-the-needy program was born. Devol, his wife Jane, and a half-dozen volunteers served as staffers.

On the first day, 17 families showed up for food. Before long it was 100. The food was distributed in the church parking lot from the beds of pickup trucks, and the country road in front of the church was jammed. Still the people came. "They might have a decent car and live in a house, but maybe they just lost a job. Some work in fast-food restaurants and can't make it on what they're paid. This is not just for the poor, poor, poor people, this is for the in-between, for the needy," Devol says.

Eventually, he and Jane moved the operation a short distance from the church to its present location in a building that they owned. The building was larger and had a bigger parking lot. They handed out staples on the second and the fourthpx Monday of every month to anyone who said they needed it. "If they'll stand in line in the cold freezing rain and wait for these groceries, they pretty much need it," he says simply.

Our growth into a community ministry

Each year, this need continues to grow dramatically due to job losses and cutbacks in the area. And Devol and crew continue to rise to the challenge. From the original 6 staffers, the regular volunteer crew now numbers about 60. The church mission has grown to a community mission. People from other churches and the community donate cash, food, or time. As of December 6 2008, the ministry received over 260 donations. By networking with other food sources, these donations can be multiplied three to five times in actual value of food. And 100 percent of all donations goes toward the purchase of food. The only overhead for the ministry is the $500-a-month utility bills, which are paid with the proceeds from the clothing sales.

What keeps us going
Devol puts in about three full workdays a week running the food program. He does all the ordering, organizes the volunteers, and shows up on every distribution day at 6 a.m. His home number is listed with the American Red Cross and the United Way in Hocking County, and he and Jane are occasionally called to deliver food to those who are unable to come in person to the pantry. Neither Devol nor anyone in the ministry is ever paid. "This is not a job," says Devol. "It's a pleasure to serve these people." Devol recalls a day on which they had crates of apples to distribute. "The little kids," he chuckles, "grabbed those apples like it was Christmas!" It is many moments like this repeated month after month that are reward enough for the Devols and their staffers. "We're here to serve," Devol says. "That's what it's all about." And, thanks to their tireless efforts and the efforts of all who help them, the hungry, who arrive with open arms and empty stomachs, can leave with hope.