Operation Blessing is looking for food and monetary donations this month to help provide food for families in need. When school starts up in a few weeks, more families start to show up at the Canfield Presbyterian Church seeking food assistance.
"During the summer, we don't have as many clients as we do when school begins," said Operation Blessing director Julie Kercher. "We serve between 120 and 170 families every month and always get more in September."
To be sure there is enough food for the expected increase, Operation Blessing has put the word out this month that they need donations of money and food.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Operation Blessing volunteers Patricia Johnson and Kris Caiazza prepare bags of groceries for more than 100 families that will be served this month in the Canfield Presbyterian Church basement. In its 27th year, Operation Blessing has served families who otherwise would not have enough food to make it to the end of the month.
Kercher said the normal budget for Operation Blessing is between $4,000 to $8,000 every four months. The organization is able to buy food in bulk from local retailers using the monetary donations. This year, they are adding a few products to the list including laundry soap and toilet paper.
"We did a survey and those were items the people were telling us they needed," Kercher said.
This week, a group of more than a dozen volunteers from all the Canfield churches showed up to prepare the bags to give out during the third week of the month. Kercher said they have always given out the food towards the end of the month because most families that get government checks and food stamps have used them all by that time. The Operation Blessing gift helps the families get through to the beginning of the next month.
Kercher is the third director of the organization. It was started in 1986 by Mary Price and in the 1990's Betty Brindiar took the helm and ran it for 20 years. She stepped down this year and turned it over to Kercher, who is trying to keep the good work going.
For Kercher, Operation Blessing holds a special meaning. Her father, Bob Kercher, was one of the original volunteers who kept with the program as long as he could. He passed away two years ago and his obituary hangs on a special board in the Operation Blessing pantry that is for "Guardian Angels."
The oldest volunteer at Operation Blessing is Jim Duffett, 91, of Canfield. He has been volunteering for the past 20 years and rarely misses a chance to help needy families. He served all that time under Brindiar, but is confident that Kercher will keep things going.
"Betty let you know who the boss was," he said. "Julie is stepping up and she is doing a wonderful job too."
Kercher said in 2012, the organization served 280 families, many on a monthly basis. That included 451 adults and 335 children. The clients can range from two-parent families with children to single elderly people trying to make it from month to month.
Operation Blessing does get support from local churches and even a new program that has worked well at the Canfield United Methodist Church.
"In their preschool program, they are teaching the children about helping others by using a fictitious person named Judy," Kercher said. "Judy is a person who needs to feed her family."
Last year, that preschool program raised more than $1,000 for Operation Blessing to purchase food, and also donated over 70 bags of groceries," Kercher said.
The Methodist and Presbyterian churches are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to help. Other churches and church-based groups that regularly donate food and monetary gifts include Catholic Charities, St. Michael's Parish, Old North Baptist, Lord of Life Lutheran, Canfield Christian, Berlin Center United Methodist, Jubilee Christian Fellowship, and Western Reserve United Methodist Women.
Even with all the help, the need is still great and donations are constantly being sought. Monetary donations can be sent to: Canfield Operation Blessing, P.O. Box 652, Canfield, Ohio, 44406. Donations of nonperishable food and goods can be dropped at the Cardinal Joint Fire District stations, the Canfield Police Department, St. Michael's Catholic Church, The Broad Street Diner, Bob and Chuck Eddy Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Fiat, and Firm Fitness and Spray Tan in the Hilltop Plaza.
Kercher said August is the month they really need to stock up the shelves as September will have an increase in the number looking for a little help to feed their families.
"We are trying to get our name out there that we are here to help," Kercher said. "You never know, the person we are helping could be your neighbor down the street."