Feeding the hungry in a time of thanksgiving
Willing Helpers Food Pantry doing its part this holiday season
The Willing Helpers Food Pantry at Solid Rock Baptist Church has been serving the Lord and the community for 10 years. Located at 8111 Brown Bridge Road in Covington, this ministry serves 75-100 families each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The food pantry is financially supported by five local churches: Solid Rock Baptist, Oxford Baptist, Eastridge, Julia Porter United Methodist, Trinity Presbyterian and Zion Baptist. Other area churches and service organizations offer periodic support. A service club at Veterans Memorial Middle School called GEMS, Girls Engaged in Meaningful Service, organized and led by teachers Whitney Jackson and Jessica Jones, donated approximately 2,000 canned goods this week.
Kroger stores located on Salem and Kirkland roads and on U.S. Highway 278 donate daily. The Publix on Salem and Brown Bridge roads and Bell’s Grocery donate on a regular basis.
The pantry works with twelve different ministries from Douglasville, Stockbridge, McDonough and Gainesville.
“We have two trucks that run,” said Jack Vanderzwart, the food pantry’s director. “His Harvest House in Gainesville gets a trailer every two weeks, and they feed about ten different ministries of which we are the largest. We buy a double section that ranges from four to 12 pallets.”
The ministry has a contact at the Farmer’s Market that donates fruit and vegetables. A bakery in Marietta donates breads and sweets on Tuesday morning. “We get enough bread to last a week,” said Vanderzwart.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Vanderzwart moved to Atlanta in 1976 and graduated from The Art Institute of Atlanta with a degree in Visual Communications.
Vanderzwart’s grandfather was a Methodist preacher.
“I turned away from the Lord when I was eighteen,” he said. “A visitation team visited my home when I was 45 years old,” he added. “I gave my life to the Lord there in my living room, and I have not been the same since.”
Vanderzwart said his family moved to Covington nine years ago and must have visited 20-25 churches in a year. He told his wife Connie, daughter Alysha and son Jacob that each family member would be responsible for picking a church and they would attend there for one month before deciding which church to settle in.
“We came to Solid Rock Baptist Church and never left,” he said.
While working at Delta, Vanderzwart volunteered at the pantry for four years. “It had crossed my mind that this was something I could do when the kids were out of the house,” he said. “When Delta started going through bankruptcy, they began cutting back and outsourced 14 of us to another company with the choice to stay or leave after a year.”
Vanderzwart retired in 2005 and accepted the position as director of the food pantry. Two months later, he went on his first mission trip to Mexico.
“The Lord truly humbled me there to know how blessed I am — how blessed we are as a people,” he said. ”You can see pictures, but unless you go, you don’t know what it’s like unless you see it, smell it, taste it.” The teams visited three villages. “I had seen so much that we take for granted,” he said. “I couldn’t even get out of the van at the third village — I just stayed in there and cried like a baby.”
The plywood churches were built in two and one half days and the team distributed food in the villages on the third day.
“The people would literally have services in them at night while we were still building,” Vanderzwart said. “It was a cathedral to them; yet, we were the ones being blessed.”
Since becoming director ,Vanderzwart said that he had become aware of many needs in our community.
“There are so many people that are choosing between medicine and utilities or rent and food,” he said. “There are those who have lived in their home for 20 to 30 years, and now retired, they don’t have enough money to pay their taxes.”
Vanderzwart said the pantry sends their benevolence to Faith Works to help people with their utilities.
“They do a much better job in interviewing the people and in contacting the utility companies,“ he added.
Patrons who visit the pantry go through a process that usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. They are asked to give an $8 donation to supplement the operations’ high utility and gas expenses. Larger families can make a donation for two boxes that allows them to get more food. The first time, they are asked to bring a picture
Over half of the settlers died. Governor William Bradford later recalled, “That which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months’ time, half of their company died.”
Spring finally came. And with the warmer weather a turn in their fortune. On March 16, the Pilgrims were surprised when a Native American named Samoset walked right into camp and welcomed them in broken English. Samoset was from Maine and had learned a few English words from the fisherman who came into the harbors there. He informed the Pilgrims that there was an Indian among the Massasoit who could speak English.
It took less than a week for Squanto to hear about the Pilgrims and to come visit them for himself. And there must have been some sense of kinship between Squanto and the Pilgrims. He may have felt that he was now able to do for others what the monks had done for him — teaching the Pilgrims how to survive in a new world. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to hunt, fish, how to plant corn, what native plants were edible.
He was able to broker a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans that would last for 50 years. Governor William Bradford called him a “Special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations.”
The harvest of 1621 was abundant, and a day of thanksgiving was planned. The nearby Massasoit people were invited, and there was a three day festival of eating and of giving thanks to God. But there probably would not have been a Thanksgiving, had there not been this most unlikely of rendezvous at Plymouth — the destitute Pilgrims meeting the English speaking Native American Squanto. As the poet, William Cowper said, “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”
Helping hand: Willing Helpers Food Pantry Director Jack Vandrerzwart sorts through food items collected and donated by the GEMS Club at Veteran’s Memorial Middle School Wednesday at the food pantry facility located behind Solid Rock Baptist Church. The donation received from the girls club at the local middle school is the largest single donation from a private group in the history of the food pantry.