By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Tammy Leslie was stirring the mix for scrambled eggs in a huge kettle for the big morning meal Saturday in Shumway.
Enduring Freedom Ministries was ready to serve up its first hot meal prepared in its kitchen at the former Shumway Grade School. The facility is known for distributing food, clothing, shoes, medical supplies and other items to the poor, free of charge without any income restrictions. Now, it plans to fill some stomachs with its fresh meals prepared by talented volunteer cooks like Tammy.
“This is my calling right here,” said Tammy as she worked through cooking the breakfast.
“I turned down a full-ride scholarship to a culinary school to do this,” the Beecher City resident said about an hour before people showed up for the premier meal. “I wanted to feed homeless people. I’m here to fill their bellies.”
Glenda “Mom” Painter, a volunteer from Effingham, was also helping with kitchen chores, including washing pans and later serving up the food for other volunteers that were waiting on tables in the dining room area. There was a mixture of chairs at the tables, but each one had flower arrangements to welcome the diners that morning.
On a wall near the dining area, a framed print of DaVinci’s “Last Supper” hangs as a message that no one is turned away from the table here. The people coming to Enduring Freedom are either inspired to help those in need or seeking divine intervention as they face hard times.
The former school is known as a pantry, with the old classrooms holding donated food, clothing, toys and dozens of other categories. Painter and her husband, Gary, known as “Dad” to all the Enduring Freedom volunteers, have helped out almost from the start of the facility, including the time it was a homeless shelter – those services are no longer offered. But the pantry is a lifeline for those in need across Effingham and several other surrounding counties. Up to 300 people are helped by the pantry.
The couple also musters up help from their family for pantry Saturdays when people are given what they need to get by.
“Every Saturday, we’re not asking our family, ‘Will you help?’ but “How many of you are helping today?’” Glenda said. “They can always use some extra help on Saturdays.”
Their work is all volunteer. The payback doesn’t come in the form of money or any traditional compensation.
“They all agree the pay comes in here,” Glenda said as she held a hand to her heart.
Lillian Leslie, Tammy’s 15-year-old daughter, is a volunteer and appreciates the thanks expressed by people coming to the pantry. Her eyes brightened as she tried to tell how a day of volunteering makes her feel.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s just the feeling after you’re done here,” she said. Lillian was among many young people pitching in Saturday.
Vicky Kight said up to 40 volunteers were expected that Saturday. Enduring Freedom has been preparing for the start of the new meal program for months. When word spread on the plan, it moved up the start of serving meals, said Kight, the director of the program.
Meals will be served from 4 to 6 p.m. on the first and second Tuesdays and from noon to 2 p.m. on the second and third Wednesdays of each month. If popular and affordable, the meal schedule might expand in the future.
“We thought we were going to start it in the fall. But people heard about it and then some businesses donated equipment and helped us as we gutted the kitchen. We also had individuals helping us. One, who wanted to remain anonymous, bought the sink and the washing station,” Kight explained.
As work continued on the breakfast, Kight offered a tour of the building. Accompanying her was 8-year-old Asha Walls, who wrinkled her nose into a smile when asked if her name was spelled like the Walls of Jericho. Asha is Vicky’s granddaughter and a dedicated worker. In a matter of an hour, she was carrying a broom, helping haul a cart of supplies and setting up some of the tables for the pantry’s guests.
Dawn Rhodes, who helps direct the volunteers, noted the family element present with each activity.
“It’s like a family. It’s been interesting watching this place grow,” Dawn said.
Enduring Freedom also helped her through some bad times, too.
“I got involved because I came out here for getting help. Then I decided to volunteer. Other people come here and want to help after they get what they need. Some people say they don’t want to come out here because they don’t want to take it from someone else needing more. Volunteering is a way to give back. The Lord doesn’t turn anyone away and we don’t either,” she said.
That is the importance of the pantry and its many services, Lillian said.
“If this wasn’t here, all those people wouldn’t get the food we give them. And now we’re making homemade meals. I really think we’re making a really huge difference,” she said.
“It’s unreal that they can donate all this and not go by the income level,” said Larry Flach, who accompanied his daughter, Laquita Campbell, to the pantry as she worked as secretary for sign-ups on different services. “I thought it was really great when she started working here. And it helps the people that need help mostly.”
It finally came time for the meal of eggs and sausage gravy with biscuits and Vicky offered a prayer blessing. In a matter of minutes, the dining room was full of conversation as the people of different ages enjoyed the hot meal. Then they collected items to take home.
It was another blessed day at Enduring Freedom Ministries.