By LINDA WOODLAND
FOR THE COURIER
Before the sun rises today, two semis loaded with 15,000 pounds of food will arrive in Fostoria for a mega food giveaway.
And by noon, volunteers at the Fostoria Church of God will have hand-carried twice that weight in and out of the church at 124 W. Tiffin St.
“We carry 15,000 pounds of food off of the back of semi trucks and we have to unpackage it because it comes on big pallets,” said the Rev. Dan Lucien, the church’s pastor. “We hand-carry all of that into the fellowship hall and sort it and categorize it, and then as people come through and get their food, we help them carry it back out. So, we literally move 30,000 pounds of food in a day that starts at 6:30 and is over by noon.”
Lucien and his armada of about 60 volunteers will convert the store-front church that once housed a hardware store into a makeshift grocery store today to provide food for nearly 1,000 people in need.
“You need a lot of people,” he said. “We’re blessed and fortunate to have a great church.”
Registration will open at 8 a.m., with a cut-off in registration at 10:30 a.m., or as long as supplies last.
“Here’s the really cool thing about what we do. In my opinion, the real heroes of helping those who are in need are those who do it every month,” Lucien said. “We don’t do that. What we do is called a mobile food pantry and we only do it twice a year because of the mass quantity that we do.”
He explained that the church does the food giveaway in January to help households struggling to pay higher utility bills. The giveaway is done again in September to help offset back-to-school costs.
The pastor said he is asking families to come get the free food and use the money they would normally use for groceries to pay for other needs.
“This is to help somebody who potentially would not buy food or to help them take that money and pay for a utility bill or buy clothes,” he said, adding the giveaway is for anyone in need. “You don’t have to be a Fostoria resident or a Seneca County resident. It’s open to everybody.”
To receive the food, a valid ID or a utility bill needs to be shown at registration.
“We have to report those numbers to West Ohio Food Bank and we can’t double-give to a household, so this helps us track and make sure that’s not happening,” the pastor said.
He said the people at the church never really know what type of food will arrive on the semis.
“Because it’s such a large quantity, they send us what they have. We do know this time we’re getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 to 500 whole chickens.
“We always get meat and we always get a variety,” he said, adding they get canned and dry boxed goods and sometimes frozen vegetables. “We can get just about anything.”
Unlike most food giveaways where volunteers box up food and hand it over to those in need, the Fostoria Church of God is instead set up much like a small grocery store.
“We actually let people shop when they come,” he said. “When they get to the first part of the line, they get a wristband. Then they wait in the sanctuary, because we don’t want anybody freezing outside.
“The next step after the wristband is they register and then after they register, they get to go back and get food. We have tables going all through our fellowship hall and it’s sectioned off so there’s a meat section and a canned goods section and so forth.
“They go through with a shopping cart and a box and they put their food in there as they go along. And we have people help them take their boxes to their cars when they leave so they don’t have to carry them,” Lucien said, adding food is allotted based on how many people are in a household.
“This will mark our fourth year (distributing food) and every time we get faster,” he said, noting that 12 people are scheduled to work the registration table.
“I try to put myself in their shoes, in any body’s shoes that would have to come and be blessed by this. We don’t want them to be there all day,” he said, noting they have streamlined the giveaway for quicker service.
Although the food giveaway is for anyone in need, Lucien said most of the people served are from Fostoria.
“This is very heavily local,” he said. “We do have people who come from other places and that’s fine, but without the numbers in front of me, I’d have to say at least 80 percent of them are from Fostoria.
“It feeds roughly 1,000 individuals. So, it’s pretty amazing when you think we have 13,000 people in our city and we’re almost at 10 percent of the (population),” he said.
Although volunteers are plentiful, there is a cost to putting on such an operation.
“For the price that we get this food for from West Ohio Food Bank, for $1.50 I can provide four to six days worth of food to one person,” Lucien said. “Our church does pay for about 50 percent of what we do in a year, but we do have some local businesses that contribute and help.”
In addition to food, the church is also giving away coats today.
“We have two coat racks full of coats that will be given away for free. As people come in, first-come, first-serve. If people are in need of a coat, they can take a coat home,” he said, adding he estimates there are 40 to 50 coats and all of them have been washed and inspected.
“So that’s another blessing that will be there when people come through the line,” he said.
As with most philanthropic endeavors, those serving others also reap a benefit.
“We’ve always had very pleasant experiences,” he said. “Some folks actually contact us saying they look forward to it. They know it’s a blessing.”
How to help
Checks can be made to Fostoria Church of God with “food giveaway” marked on the memo line.
“One-hundred percent of the money goes there,” Pastor Dan Lucien said of the cost of the food giveaway.
“There are links on our website at www.fostoriacog.org and there’s actually a link called ‘givelify’ on our website. Click on there and it opens options of giving and one of the options is ‘food giveaway,’ so when they put their donation in the envelope in the system, 100 percent of that money is set aside for the food giveaway.”