Matthew 25 Outreach Center COVID food drive.JPG

Volunteers from Matthew 25 Outreach Center unload and distribute boxes of packaged food and produce during a food drive at Mansfield Senior High School.

MANSFIELD -- Kris Bechtel stood in the shadow of a white delivery truck, taking cardboard boxes full of packaged food and stacking them beside her.

Bechtel has been playing it safe since the coronavirus outbreak came to Ohio, but volunteering at Saturday morning's food drive was one thing she wasn't willing to quit.

"Other than this I stay home, do everything I need to be doing, but I just feel I need to be here," Bechtel said.

Bechtel has been volunteering with Matthew 25 Outreach Center for about two years. The non-profit operates monthly food drives in multiple counties, including the one Saturday in the Mansfield Senior High School parking lot.

"All these people out here in this parking lot need us," Bechtel said. "I can't stand the thought of them getting their food. It's a risk and I know it, but I'm willing to take it."

"I feel the same way," said Russ Haft, a fellow volunteer.

Haft is at higher risk if infected with the virus due to his age, so he wore a cloth mask as he worked. He hasn't missed a food drive since he started volunteering three years ago.

"God's help," Haft said. "It's all about Him and being his hands and feet."

Inside the truck, Craig Franks sorted through boxes and handed them down to Bechtel. Franks, who also helps with the drives in Wayne County, said the number of attendees has risen significantly in the past month. Many were people who never anticipated they'd need help feeding their families.

"Single mothers that were waitresses and stuff at nice high-end restaurants, been laid off, they were able to make it on their own up until now," Franks said.

The food drive was manned by a small crew of volunteers, who were instructed to maintain a distance of six to 10 feet from each other at all times. Some directed traffic, while others loaded boxes of food into the trunk of each car.

Jeff Wright, who founded Matthew 25 Outreach Center, agreed the demand for food assistance has shot up as a result of the outbreak.

“Normally it’s about 1,500 to 2,000 people that we provide food to. We’re seeing a spike on this side,” Wright said. “This week alone, we’ve probably added an additional 250 that will be receiving food.”

Wright estimated the organization provided food for between 2,500 and 2,700 Richland County families Saturday.

The non-profit usually focuses solely on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are more expensive and harder to find at a typical food bank. But in a time of increased need in the community, Matthew 25 provided a greater variety of items.

Each car was given a box of prepackaged foods, a bag of apples and a few “fun foods.”

A larger group of Matthew 25 volunteers spent Saturday delivering boxes to elderly residents throughout Richland County. Volunteers knocked on doors, then left the boxes on front porches to minimize person-to-person contact.

Wright estimated the ministry provided food to NUMBER of Richland County residents Saturday, but they weren’t the only group helping out.

Kristi Spangler organized a food giveaway in the parking lot of Sandy Hill Fruit Farm and Garden Center. Spangler and her friends gave away about 80 bags of food.

“First and foremost, we wanted to take care of any veterans that need us, but it's also for the community as well anybody that needs it,” Spangler said.

“Some people haven’t been able to get their unemployment yet and obviously the stimulus check hasn’t came. We just want to do this for other people that may not have resources or other family members that we can count on.”

Spangler is a healthcare worker, but knows people who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns. She intends to continue doing food give-aways and encourages the community to attend if they need food or have food to donate.

At Zion’s Refuge Baptist Church, parishioners offered free bagged lunches in a drive-thru style format from 1 to 2 p.m. Each bagged lunch included a sandwich, a drink, chips and a dessert.

Joan Parsons, the wife of Pastor Steven Parsons, said volunteers will practice social distancing with guests and each other. The church sees the meal distribution as an opportunity to be “the hands and feet of Jesus” and will likely continue offering the Saturday meals for weeks to come.

“There’s a huge need right now and I think we all need to just step up a little bit,” said Mark Caris, a member of the church. “The schools are feeding all the kids through the week but there’s nothing really on the weekend.”

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