EAST LIVERPOOL - Much like scripture referring to loaves and fishes, Friends in Service Helping, better known as FISH, provides more and more food every year, even though the number of those in need continues to increase.
From 10 a.m. until noon five days each week, those who find their grocery dollar isn't stretching as far as it once did can stop in at the food pantry located near the corner of Jackson and Fourth streets and leave with enough to keep their families fed, at least for awhile.
Although it has been around longer than most volunteers can remember, the food pantry has been operating at its current location the past 15 years, according to Bob Bloor, one of 35-40 volunteers who work at the site.
Volunteers (from left) Jerry Duncan, Vince Gulutz, Tom Gulutz, Bob Bloor and Earl Fitzgerald start placing cases of food onto dollies so it can be placed in the FISH food pantry near the corner of Jackson and Fourth streets in East Liverpool. Also helping that day was John Wise. Nearly 550 households benefited from the pantry in November, and volunteers said the number of those partaking of the free food has been rising over the past year. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert)
On a recent warm day, a handful of those volunteers unloaded a large commercial truck, taking case after case of non-perishable foods into the house that serves as the food pantry.
"Once a month, we get 34 cases of each item," Bloor said, explaining that, normally, the volunteers drive twice a month to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Youngstown to purchase food but in December, it had to be delivered since the Mahoning County site was under renovation.
What they can't get from Second Harvest, the group purchases from local stores.
"We buy a lot at Aldi's every other Saturday. Walmart donates everything and we take what they give us, a lot of bread and meat," Bloor said, noting they pick up from Walmart every Saturday.
Money for purchasing the food comes strictly from donations from individuals and churches, with some also provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Recipients of the food need only to bring their identification with a driver's license preferred but not mandatory and proof of residency to the food pantry to register based on the size of their family. Unlike many other agencies, federal income guidelines are not enforced.
"We take their word on their income," Bloor said.
When FISH first started, volunteers found out what families needed, went and purchased those items and then delivered them to the individual homes, according to Bloor.
But, today, the need has increased drastically, making the central distribution site necessary.
"It's jumped quite a bit in the last six to 12 months," Bloor said, as he surveyed the mounds of canned goods, cereal boxes, breadstuffs and other food stacked around the house.
In November, 549 households 2,038 individual were served from the pantry, most from East Liverpool, Calcutta and Wellsville.
"We're about the only one that stays open five days a week," Bloor pointed out. "We do a lot of good."
He said volunteers are primarily older, as evidenced by the men unloading the truck, although no one could tell by watching them.
At 94, John Wise was briskly hauling cases of food into the pantry, assisted by 83-year-old Earl Fitzgerald and the "youngster" of the group, Jerry Duncan, at 66.
"We all work together. It's a good group of guys," Bloor said.
As with most such groups, donations are always welcome and appreciated, both food and cash. Anyone interested can stop in the food pantry and drop off donations.