In the early days of the pandemic, a small team of Heart to Heart volunteers got together in fellowship and began discussions about the need to help families with food insecurity during uncertain times. While Heart to Heart quickly transitioned from a walk-in service to a new drive-through service, fewer families were coming to the pantry. Knowing that our pantry was blessed with an abundance of food and that food insecurity was growing, we felt determined to find a way to help more families. Recognizing transportation might be a barrier to coming to the drive-through service, we envisioned a mobile pantry that would take our food directly to families in their local communities.
With this vision in mind, our six founding volunteers developed a proposal for a new outreach ministry of Heart to Heart. Our plan was to deliver food items from our pantry to various sites in Columbus by partnering with local human service agencies. Through the support of Heart to Heart’s Director and with the blessing of Dr. Miles, the Pop Up Pantry was created in July of 2020.
The Pop Up Pantry began by delivering food to an agency site one day a week. Our small team of volunteers worked through new processes for bagging food while maintaining pandemic safety precautions of masking and social distancing. To further ensure a safe environment, food was bagged outside through the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter months. Additional volunteers were recruited to help with driving the church van and unloading bags of food at the sites. By the end of 2020, the Pop Up Pantry outreach ministry had delivered food to 745 families at our agency sites.
In addition to delivering food weekly in our first year, the Pop Up Pantry coordinated a Christmas toy and gift drive for children of the families at Southpoint Village Apartments (Southpoint), one of our agency sites. Southpoint is a supported housing complex servicing those with disabling mental illness, chemical dependence, and chronic homelessness. We were fortunate for the opportunity to partner with Wickliffe Progressive Elementary School, whose students, families, and staff generously donated many of the toys and gifts. We were also blessed by donations from Guild Groups D and RSZ, Share and Learn Garden, church families, and friends. These donations truly made Christmas wishes come true for the children at Southpoint!
During 2021, the Pop Up Pantry was able to expand to two days a week, adding new agency sites and volunteers. Balancing safety with pandemic surges during the year continued to be an important priority. Our small team of volunteers worked diligently throughout the year, managing a large workload each week. Through the ongoing commitment of our founding volunteers and the dedication of our volunteer team, the Pop Up Pantry served 1,714 families last year.
In 2021, the Pop Up Pantry held its second annual Christmas toy and gift drive for families of children at Southpoint. At the start of the drive, families identified “wish lists” of gifts for their children. For the second year in a row, 100% of these “wish lists” were fulfilled enabling us to provide 172 gifts for 86 children. We are thankful for the generosity and goodwill of students, families, and staff at Wickliffe, church groups, and friends again this past year.
Our calling has gone beyond the provision of food from the pantry at our agency sites. In addition to our gift drive for Southpoint, volunteers have collected and delivered clothing items for Hope Resource Center (Hope). Hope provides compassionate care to those living with addiction and the resources needed to enrich and transform their lives. Many of those served by Hope are also experiencing chronic homelessness. Additionally, our six founding members made monetary donations last year in honor of our van drivers to Hope and Riverview International Center (RIC). RIC helps New Americans with meeting their basic needs, strengthening families, and a nurturing community.
Since its inception, over 2,400 families have been served through the Pop Up Pantry. We’re so very grateful for our partner agencies who’ve enabled us to reach out to these families. These agencies include National Church Residences, Hope Resource Center, Franklinton Farms, and Riverview International Center.
We’re blessed by our church family and the groups who work with us to support the Pop Up Pantry and the communities we serve. The Share and Learn Garden team has provided nutritious produce during the growing season. The Monday Night Meals team has provided leftover bread items and desserts each week. In addition, the Trading Post has donated clothing to Hope and the Mat Maker group has made many mats for Hope. We could not serve our families without the ongoing efforts of our wonderful team of volunteers and support from Heart to Heart’s leadership.
This journey has brought us many blessings in serving others with grace and compassion as God calls us to do. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunities the Pop Up Pantry has provided to us. We look forward to continuing to serve and expand this outreach ministry in the New Year.