People Helping People

Volunteers at People Helping People on Bowman Street prepare food to give to those in line for a free meal.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Richland Source asked readers to nominate heroes from the community in the fight against the coronavirus using our Open Source platform. Vivian Winters was among those nominated.

MANSFIELD -- Vivian Winters is ready to help feed those in need as businesses close and their employees get laid off in the wake of Governor Mike Dewine's stay at home order to fend off the coronavirus.

The Mansfield woman and her army of volunteers are serving meals Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sundays at noon with lunches at the pavilion on 73 Bowman St in Mansfield, rain or shine.

"We were just a group of people who saw a need," said Winters, director of People Helping People, a non-profit serving free meals to anyone who gets in line. "We used to be in Central Park and people would hang out there and we saw they were in need."

Four years later, People Helping People gained property on Bowman Street from the land bank.

"We felt like we were where the people needed us to be," Winters said. "We were able to find that spot on Bowman and Fourth Street which has really been a blessing."

When the pandemic hit, Winters did not spend much time wondering if she and her volunteers should continue to serve others.

Winters, a social worker with the Ohio Air National Guard's 179th Airlift Wing,  said she wants those in need of food to know they can come and enjoy a meal.

"It's a ministry. It's a passion, to love God and to love people," she said of serving food to those in need.

Working with the new guidelines presented by DeWine has made Winters think about how her operation runs. One of the challenges the pandemic has created for Winters and her crew was the need for social distancing, she said. 

"There are people with issues, both physical challenges and mental disabilities, who receive the meals. Educating them on social distancing has been a challenge and very rewarding. I feel like they trust me, and believe me, and see me every day."

Winters said she teaches everyone in line to hold their arms out from their sides to show how far apart they need to be. She is now allowing only five people in the pavilion at a time time to get their food.

"We usually take about 45 minuets to get through the line," Winters said, "now we get through it in 10 minutes doing grab and go lunches."

The meals vary from day to day, she added.

Once a month, a volunteer brings pizza, other days People Helping People serves hot sandwiches or cold meat sandwiches, fruit and a bag of potato chips.

"I can tell you, usually the bags are overflowing," she said.

With the end of the month coming up, Winters said she expects more people to be coming for the free lunches. Lately, she said the daily servings are between 80 and 90 people.

"I don't ask for proof of income or anything. The way I see it, if you are willing to stand in line for a free meal, you should get one," she said.

Winters said the lunches have given her a reason to enjoy life even more.

"I think for me, it's the prayer that I pray with everyday. I know it's simplistic," she said. "But it really brings me down to reality.

"I think it's the kindness. It's not social isolation -- I think that's important. It's social distancing. Listening to them at a distance. Hearing what their concerns are."

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