Mansfield-based organization Matthew 25 Outreach Center is on a mission to fill the nutritional gaps and complement the food distribution efforts of other charities.
On Oct. 27, the organization will bring its mission and services to Ashland County at the shared parking lot between Luray Lanes and the University Hospitals Samaritan building on East Main Street at 10 a.m.
With food pantries, donation centers and other charities offering a variety of shelf-stable products for those in need, balanced nutrition can be difficult to maintain.
Founder and President Jeff Wright established Matthew 25 in response to a need in Mansfield for more food distribution and a "calling" he felt in himself.
Derived from the Bible, the name is inspired by the passage that includes the verse, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
"We have about 250 to 300 people that drive from Ashland to Mansfield to get food, currently, and that’s what started to open up our eyes," said Wright. "We can help meet the need that’s here a little bit better with the fresh healthy foods."
With products primarily from Cleveland Food Bank, Matthew 25 will provide around 6,000 pounds of produce to Ashland County, an amount Wright said does not go to waste.
"We’ve never had food left over," Wright said. "We just want to make sure we get it into the hands of the folks that are hungry and they’re either going to come to us or we’re going to take it to them or both."
Once a guest arrives, contact information is recorded for future event projections as well as a way to contact them if there is a recall on an item, though Wright said that has not happened. Guests do not require documentation but self-declare their needs.
Volunteers accompany guests with a wagon they get to fill with items of their choice as they would at a grocery store. The volunteers also deliver produce to those guests who are home-bound and cannot physically get to the distribution site.
"I think in any community, those on the margins ... are sometimes not seen. My hope is that we bring those people from the margins into the center and their voices can be heard," said the Rev. Laura White from Christ United Methodist Church.
White, also a board member with Matthew 25, said the opportunity to build the relationships between the volunteers and guests is a key component of each distribution.
And while the organization is faith-based, all community members and organizations are welcome to get involved.
"Part of the strength of Matthew 25 is we work very hard to be ecumenical," said White. "That’s one of the reasons we don’t have it at a church because we want all faith communities to be involved."
Those who seek aid from a food pantry or are on a supplemental program like Women, Infants and Children often do not have the luxury to include produce in their budget.
"Especially with fresh produce, it’s very difficult to find affordable produce when you have such a limited amount to spend on food," said Cathy Thiemens, executive director at Ashland Church Community Emergency Shelter Services.
Thiemens said it can often be intimidating for those trying to get back on their feet to expose themselves to new situations and people while also trying to organize their day-to-day lives.
Wright said personal connections are essential to these distributions to show the community these people are "not just a statistic in terms of someone that needs food."
"It’s so much cheaper to buy processed food that when you’re struggling financially and have food insecurities, you’re probably going to buy the processed food," White said. "So it’s important for health reasons that that fresh produce get into people’s hands that need it."