Since 1976, following the 1974 tornado, the Xenia FISH Food Pantry has been a steady source of food assistance to folks across a wide range of circumstances. Gail Matson, FISH Food Pantry president since 2017, said they have served an average of five to six hundred families every month over the past few years. That is, until the pandemic hit our community in early 2020. Since that time, the number of families has been as high as 1,200 per month. “Our numbers have leveled off since that peak, but we still had 875 families this January, which is usually our slowest month,” she said.
To give our patrons an opportunity to help our community with food assistance, the Greene County Public Library has held our annual Food for Friends drive for more than 10 years. We’ve organized this drive in partnership with area food pantries, such as the FISH Food Pantry. This year, it runs from February 14th through the 28th and provides these food pantries with thousands of non-perishable food items. It’s a wonderful opportunity for you to feed your heart while helping to provide food for your friends and neighbors. The program allows you to donate non-perishable food items in exchange for credit toward library fines.
I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss Xenia’s needs with Gail. She is an inspiration.
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How has Xenia’s needs changed over the past two years?
Early on during the pandemic, we had to change everything about how we distributed food. We could no longer have people coming in to shop due to health protocols, so we had to box up the food to hand out. We re-opened this past June, which is great. The library’s Food for Friends drive comes at a perfect time for us since we expect the community’s need to remain high.
What’s the most rewarding part of your role?
The smiles and hugs we get from people. They really appreciate what we do. You develop friendships and worry about them if they do not come in. If I’m having a bad day, a hug from one of our clients makes it all better.
What’s something about your work that some folks may not know?
We respect everyone who comes to us. We instill in our volunteers the importance of treating our clients as if they were coming to a grocery store. To anyone who needs food, come see us and give us a chance to show you what we offer.
Why are community partners so important to your work?
I have made so many friends in this community. They hold up the pantry and help whenever I ask. Melissa Fasanella, the head librarian at Xenia Community Library, is an inspiration. She’s fun and I love working with her. Food for Friends has been phenomenal.
Community partners are the key to our success – from donated or reduced cost services to volunteers. We have churches and organizations – Greene County Fair board, the Post Office, the Boy Scouts and, really, too many to list all of them. We had an Eagle Scout paint two sides of our building for his Community Service Badge.
So many have donated or worked on things at reduced prices that would never have been finished without their help. Food drives, monetary donations, and volunteers – these are the backbone of the pantry.
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Greene County Public Library is proud to partner with the FISH Food Pantry and all the other food pantries in Greene County. Bring your non-perishable food items to any of our seven community libraries – Beavercreek, Cedarville, Fairborn, Jamestown, Winters-Bellbrook, Xenia, and Yellow Springs – between now and February 28th. We’ll make sure that our County’s food banks receive them on your behalf!
Food for Friends ends February 28th, but you can continue to support your local food pantry. Reach out to get involved by volunteering, participating in other food drives, or through monetary donations.
To learn more about the Xenia FISH Food Pantry visit their website here.
Community pantries that are a part of Food for Friends:
Beavercreek: Beavercreek FISH Food Pantry
Cedarville: Cedarville Community Food Pantry
Fairborn: Fairborn FISH Food Pantry
Jamestown: Jamestown Community Food Pantry - Jamestown United Methodist Church
Winters-Bellbrook: Bellbrook Sugarcreek Community Support Center
Yellow Springs: Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry