EAST LIVERPOOL - A steady stream of people stood outside the Don Lowe Pavilion at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Saturday awaiting a tasty burger or a hot dog.
Across the street, men unloaded a truck of non-perishable food items into the Samaritan House of First United Methodist Church.
What does one program have to do with the other? Not much, except that both feed the hungry and both rely on the largesse of Wal-Mart to stay in operation.
Volunteers from Wal-Mart and St. Stephen’s Episcopal church helped serve food Saturday at the Don Lowe Pavilion at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
At St. Stephen's, for almost two years, the Wal-Mart Foundation has been funding the Good Shepherd Lunch to the tune of $1,000 every three months. The money buys most of the food served monthly by the church ministry, said Program Director Gary Cunningham.
"We keep them well-fed, even if it's only once a month," said Wendy Jo Lockhart, assistant manager at the Calcutta Wal-Mart.
At the Samaritan House, a ministry known as F.I.S.H. of East Liverpool stores up non-perishables from Wal-Mart every Saturday and distributes it to needy families from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.
F.I.S.H. also expects to benefit from a recent $715,000 gift from the Wal-Mart Foundation to the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, which serves Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
Second Harvest is using the money - awarded through the "Fighting Hunger Together" Facebook contest in May - to expand its facilities and buy new trucks and forklifts.
F.I.S.H. volunteer and spokesman Caryle Buck said local agencies that buy food from Second Harvest will benefit from its enhanced capacity to store and distribute food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
"In the long run, it's probably going to benefit us more than if (the money) just went for food," Buck said. "We find that when we order food, we don't always get a lot of good produce. They're going to guarantee us that we're going to get fresh produce when we need it."
Wal-Mart has been assisting the Good Shepherd Lunch since September 2010 through its "Volunteerism Always Pays" program. Employees who do volunteer work keep track of their hours and turn them in to the Wal-Mart Foundation, which then calculates the monetary award based on the number of volunteer hours worked, Lockhart said.
Calcutta Wal-Mart employees have been logging 300 to 400 volunteer hours every quarter, Lockhart said, so the checks usually total $1,000. "It helps out a lot," she said.
Cunningham said the money pays for enough food to feed 275 people once a month. "We started out three years ago as a soup kitchen, but we've grown so much," he said. "There's a real need in this area for this kind of thing."
The Good Shepherd Lunch serves a hot meal to anyone who wants to come, usually on the last Saturday of the month. In 2011, the program served 2,424 people, Cunningham said. That number probably will go up this year. In May alone, the lunch served 250 people.
"We try to treat the people like family," he said.
Cunningham called the Wal-Mart money "a godsend. It's a great thing for us because it's saving the church (money)."
Kenneth Bishop, 57, of East Liverpool, has missed only one Good Shepherd Lunch in three years. Even though he lives close to the downtown Giant Eagle, he makes the trip to St. Stephen's on his scooter every month, partly so he can see his friends.
"It makes it just a little easier to not have to cook once a month," he said. "They treat us like gold."
Bishop lives on $938 a month in disability benefits from Social Security. "When you're on a fixed income like me, every little bit helps. I'm glad they do it for the people," he said.
F.I.S.H., which stands for Friends in Service Helping, also has seen its numbers go up in the past year. Buck said the ministry distributed parcels of food to 481 people in June. "We were getting 280 to 290 this time last year," he said.
In addition to Second Harvest, F.I.S.H. gets its food from weekly pickups at Wal-Mart and bi-weekly pickups at Aldi's. The food from Second Harvest is a combination of non-perishable items and produce such as corn on the cob, peaches, potatoes and onions.
"For every $15, we probably get $100 worth of food," Buck said.
In 2011, Second Harvest distributed 2.3 million pounds of food in Columbiana County through 28 local agencies, including F.I.S.H. Second Harvest got a boost in May when it learned it was the beneficiary of a Wal-Mart Foundation grant.
The $1 million grant went to the Youngstown-Warren area after it placed first in the "Fighting Hunger Together" contest on Facebook. The grant was split between Second Harvest and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown.