LIMA — Shannon Wappelhorst stood in line for 30 minutes with a broken leg on Thursday morning just to get her kids fresh fruit and vegetables from the Churches United Pantry’s weekly fresh produce give-away.
She wasn’t alone.
Open only 15 minutes, the fast-moving line snaked through the parking lot of the give-away, at Pierce and Spring streets, and down the block. It was filled with people carrying orange bags, book bags and even luggage to transport their free produce from the give-away to their homes.
“People need help, and we can give it,” said Mary Stepleton, president of the CUP board. “Besides, this is what God tells us to do.”
The pantry, which is run by 10 area churches, is an outreach that all the participating churches feel called to do.
“You don’t just sit in church on Sunday morning and pray for help. You go out and help people,” said Suzanne Plumb, outgoing president of the board, who joined the army of 40 volunteers on this particular morning to get the goods to the people.
The give-away, now in its seventh year, began when CUP volunteers Karen and David Howell realized the perishable food they saw at West Ohio Food Bank needed a means of quick distribution so it wouldn’t rot. They organized the first give-away to get the food to the people. It’s a concept that is now repeated at other locations around town.
Volunteers at the CUP produce give-away start the day at 6 a.m., sorting the food.
“We sort everything and make certain there is nothing rotten in there,” Plumb said.
At the stroke of 8, the lines began to move through the sorted produce.
“The people take what they want. If you don’t want a particular item, that’s OK. CUP is a you-pick pantry, and so is the produce give away. We hope that cuts down on waste,” Plumb added.
And a quick spot-check in the line says there will be little wasted.
“My five kids will tear through this as soon as I get home,” said Wappelhorst, 37 of Lima.
Ditto Darren Harris and Leeanna Durain, who got their 5-year-old twins moving early in the morning to make it to the give-away before the food was gone.
“It’s worth it to us. Anything to save money. This helps us make it to the next month,” Harris said.
Durain added, “The kids love fruit and vegetables. They don’t like getting up this early, but they’ll like eating the food.”
Homer Griffin, 73, said he will come earlier than 8:30 next week so he can get a melon. This week there were 150 watermelons to give out, one per customer, but he was too far back in the line.
“Maybe next week. I got plenty of good stuff though. And now, if I can help anybody else out, I’ll do it,” he added.
This year, the volunteers believe their prayers were answered when five juniors from Elida High School helped sort fruit and load boxes into cars.
“I’m 78 years old. After two trips out to cars with produce, I’m done. These young girls coming out to help today has been a real blessing to us,” Plumb said.
The students got their marching orders from Katie Hawk, who has been volunteering at the pantry. She texted a plea for help to her fellow juniors at Elida and was happy with the turnout.
“We should be doing this. This really helps you count your blessings,” Hawk said. “I believe it’s time for my generation to step up and do our job,” she added.
And even though their help at this non-profit is strictly volunteer, Plumb and Stepleton confessed there is some pay.
“People say God bless you so many times, and they’re so appreciative,” Plumb said, gazing down the line at the people waiting for fresh fruit and veggies.
Stepleton added, “We are paid in Jesus bucks.”