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February 26, 2015

It’s just a box of toiletries. Paper towel. Laundry detergent. Toothpaste. About $20 of items you can’t get with food stamps. But it means the world to Peggy.

The Richwood grandmother quit her job three years ago when circumstances begrudged her to take her grandkids into her home. Now she has five children between the ages of three and 14 living with her. She’s too old for this, she laughs. But you know there’s more than a hint of seriousness under her breath.

“We go through it like it’s nothing,” she said of the box of supplies she was ready to carry to her car. “It’s kind of embarrassing to have to come in here. I had to quit my job. I was doing good.” She pauses to hold back tears.

Here, is the North Union Personal Needs Pantry and Free Shop, a set of four converted classrooms in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Richwood. Three times a month, a loyal group of eight to 10 volunteers opens the doors and welcomes people struggling to make ends meet. They provide basic human need supplies in order to help a family feel confident about themselves and comfortable in their living.

“There was a woman who became homeless at one point and she was just getting back on her feet,” said volunteer Larry Lemaster. “She’d found a place to live, but didn’t have anything. By coming here, she was able to get some things built up to where she could live comfortably. And that made a big impact on me.”

In addition to stocking soap, deodorant, and other personal needs items, the volunteers accept donations of clothing, household items, toys, and small appliances. On Saturday mornings when they also serve a free breakfast, it turns into a gathering place, with as many as 50 families hanging out and visiting for the duration of the pantry hours.

“We want them to feel that this is a place they can come and be loved and respected,” said Jo Ann Stillings, a retired teacher and founding volunteer of the Pantry.

Stillings says her instincts to help others started when she was teaching. She would go to the store and buy all the notebooks and pencils she could by the cartload, storing them in her classroom closet to give to students who needed them throughout the year.

“People would ask me, ‘Jo Ann, is there going to be a shortage?’”

She still stocks up the same way today, watching for sales at local stores to buy pantry items in bulk when the price is right. She even collects and distributes coupons to her clients when they come to pick up items.

“I’ve become a coupon guru,” laughs Peggy, who’s learned a trick or two from Jo Ann to help her suddenly large family to get by. “If there’s a sale, I can sniff it out!”

The North Union Personal Needs Pantry has been a United Way Funded Partner since 2008 and will receive $3,000 in donor support this year.

“You don’t see half the people who are helped,” said Lemaster. “One person comes to pick up some items, but they go home to a family of four or five who are all going to use it. It changes people’s lives.”

“I love people and I want to see them comfortable,” said Stillings. “With the help from United Way and our other partners, that allows me to do these things I feel passionate about. It’s what gets me out of bed.

“These people are all my friends. Every last one of them. What I do, I hope, reflects God’s love to our clients. I feel His love and I want to share it with others. I don’t tell them so. But I hope from our actions, from our mannerisms, from our interactions with them, that somehow we reflect the love of God. And that they’re good people. They just need some help. And we’re blessed to be able to help them.”

“She’s really changed my outlook on life,” said Peggy. “To be in this situation and to see these people and what they do, it’s just really heartwarming. I see these people doing this and I know that somebody cares. When I’m through with this, I’m going to be here helping too.”

The North Union Personal Needs Pantry and Free Shop is located at 18 S. Fulton Street in Richwood. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on the first Saturday, second Thursday, and third Saturday of each month. Residents may visit once per month if they live within the boundaries of the North Union Local School District and are eligible (according to Ohio Department of Job & Family Services Guidelines). For more information, please call (740) 943-3111.

United Way works to bring neighbors and resources together to improve lives in Union County. United Way of Union County has raised more than $19 million for local needs since it was established in 1958. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with local businesses, government, and non-profit organizations to solve pressing social service issues large and small.

Volunteers keep the shelves stocked for clients at the North Union Personal Needs Pantry and Free shop. From left to right: Mary Ann Patton, Larry Lemaster, Barbara Holcomb, Jo Ann Stillings, Janet Markin, Mary Price, and Georgeann Charles.
 
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