By Dorothy Markulis
The need for food doesn’t end with the holidays and one Akron church is tackling that need daily, head on.
Akron Bible Church, 783 Brown St., started delivering holiday food baskets in 1980 with a distribution of 12 baskets. Now that ministry has grown to thousands of baskets delivered all year.
“In 2009 our pastor had a vision of a year-round ministry of providing food,” said Henri Etta Fletch-Lockhart who with her husband, Rev. Larry Lockhart, directs the ministry. She and her husband are the primary volunteers.
“And whoever the Lord sends,” she added.
She said the year round endeavor started out with the distribution of canned foods left over after the holiday baskets were delivered.
“People would call and say they needed food delivered. We started out small and gave them what we could, usually canned goods. Then someone donated a freezer, then two,” Fletch-Lockhart explained.
The ministry evolved into a year-round emergency food pantry, including the Hope Café in a building on East South Street. There meals are provided on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 1 p.m. They provide 200 lunches a week, not to mention meals on Friday night from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
As the ministry expanded, so did the need for larger quarters – and with God’s help – one was provided.
“In 2012, there was an empty building across the street from the Hope Café and my husband and I thought it would be perfect for the food pantry,” Henri Etta said.
“We laid our hands on it and we prayed about it,” she said.
She added the church, with all its outreach ministries, is very poor.
“We have no money,” she added.
She said she told the pastor about the building and he said the man had offered to sell it to the church, but the pastor did not have the money the man wanted. She said they all prayed for an answer to their need.
“One night my husband and I came into the church and everyone was praising God and yelling and so excited and when we asked what was going on the pastor said the man gave us the building for the tax write-off,” Henri Etta said.
“The Lord has blessed Baskets of Love,” she explained.
After days of hard work, scrubbing and cleaning and building shelves, Baskets of Love moved into the donated building in October 2013.
“The Lord certainly gave us the Agape Storehouse,” she said.
And the ministry continues to grow.
“Last year we distributed 75 tons of food,” Henri Etta said.
She said the Baskets of Love ministry serves 50 families each week.
Henri Etta, who has a full-time job as a social worker, and her husband, who also has a full-time job, also spend many hours as volunteers.
“As many as we need to,” she declared. “It’s been a real challenge.”
Why do they do it?
“Just loving the Lord. There was a time in my life when I was hungry. I didn’t have anything. Now this is my first love. God has been so good in our lives,” she related. “The Lord said feed my people.”
She said II Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 10 illustrates her and her husband’s philosophy.
“And God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grown and produce a rich harvest from you generosity.”
Henri Etta said the thanks the people offer is heartwarming and she relishes their success stories.
“Children deserve to eat. We watch them grow,” she stated. “Mothers with six or seven children are struggling.”
Stacy Hunt, a single mother of four, can certainly testify to that.
“I work. I get food stamps, but I don’t make a lot of money and at the end of the month, there was nothing left,” Hunt said. “Baskets of Love helped me out a lot.”
Now Hunt helps by donating her time to distributing the food to those who need it.
“I know how it helped me out. I want to give back. I don’t have money but I give my time,” Hunt said.
The need is never ending and so is the work.
Volunteers and donations are always welcome.
“Maybe there are some outlying churches who want to help, but don’t know how,” Henri Etta said. “Just contact Akron Bible Church at 330-376-5673 or her at 330-319-1922 .”
Henri Etta also may be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.