Partner Spotlight: Father’s Wish Food Ministry
Grocery bags filled with green beans, pumpkin pie fixings, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce and more line the wall of the sanctuary at Outreach of Love Church in Weatherford, Texas. On the opposite side of the room, white folding tables stand laden with boxes of produce, dairy products, bread, dry beans and other items. It’s Tuesday morning and Melissa Lanier and her team of volunteers are preparing to pass out Thanksgiving dinner boxes to those in need.
“I think growing up poor and knowing how that feels makes you not want anyone else to experience that,” said Melissa Lanier, director of Father’s Wish Food Ministry, a Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) Partner Agency. The first three Tuesdays of the month, Father’s Wish Food Ministry passes out food to an average of 70-80 families during each distribution.
Melissa started Father’s Wish Food Ministry out of the trunk of her car eight years ago. “We had a few families in the church that needed help, but we just didn’t know how to reach them,” said Melissa, who regularly attends Outreach of Love. When a friend approached her with surplus food from another church’s food ministry, Melissa saw it as an opportunity to begin meeting the need in her own community. That same friend connected Melissa with TAFB and in 2009, Father’s Wish Food Ministry became a TAFB Partner Agency. Melissa said that the training and networking opportunities provided by TAFB have been very helpful as the pantry continues to grow.
Melissa’s sister, daughter and parents all regularly volunteer at the food pantry. Melissa said her father, James, was a big help in spreading the word about the pantry in the early years. “He would tell people, ‘You go see my daughter and she’ll make sure you eat,’” said Melissa.
From a young age, Melissa had a desire to help people. “I knew what it was like to be made fun of at school,” said Melissa. With her parents working to provide for their four children on low-wage jobs, Melissa and her siblings relied on free school meals. Students receiving these meals had to go through a separate line to receive food, which made them a target for teasing. “I remember thinking ‘I can be upset about this or do something,’” said Melissa.
In eighth grade, Melissa started collecting funds from her peers to help buy meals for students who couldn’t afford them. Some of the students who used to tease her became supporters of her cause. She also started a program to assist students with disabilities in getting their food in the cafeteria line and getting to and from classes. “I really think that’s how it all started,” said Melissa.
More Than a Food Pantry
In addition to providing nutritious food to clients, Father’s Wish Food Ministry also provides other services. A nurse recently visited the pantry to administer flu shots and once a month a wellness technician provides health screenings. Father’s Wish also offers backpacks full of school supplies to families in need and provides boxes of kid-friendly food for children in the summer. In December, the pantry will distribute Christmas stockings to go along with the regular food boxes.
Each time the pantry is open, Father’s Wish also provides an Elderly Assist program, which allows elderly clients to be the first to receive food and get assistance with selecting food items and carrying boxes to their vehicles. Melissa said she is also working to start a drive-thru process for the food distribution to make it easier for pantry clients with disabilities to receive food. In addition, Melissa hopes to set up a system to deliver food to those without access to transportation.
“A Spirit of Giving”
Melissa’s sister, Helen Moore, regularly delivers food to an elderly woman in the community who is living on less than $800 a month. Without the regular visits, said Helen, “She wouldn’t be able to eat.” Helen said she enjoys giving pantry clients tips on how to make healthy meals with the food they receive. She said that clients are sometimes hesitant to take certain items until she shares recipe ideas with them. “Eggplant, [for example], is delicious,” said Helen. “You can prepare it like lasagna or use it in place of meat in a dish,” she said. Helen said that clients often come back to her after trying a recipe to let her know how good it was.
Several volunteers have firsthand experience with food insecurity. Debra Meadors has been volunteering with Father’s Wish Food Ministry for about a month. “I’ve been blessed in many ways throughout the years. The food ministries have helped me and this is a way to give back,” she said. “You can never know when you’re going to need help.”
Weatherford resident Vickie Harris, 59, has been receiving food from Father’s Wish Food Ministry since 2011. “It’s been a godsend,” said Vickie, who is working to make ends meet with her fixed Social Security income. With Thanksgiving around the corner, Vickie said she is most thankful for love, life, friends and being able to do it all again tomorrow. “One day at a time,” she said.
Melissa said that many of the pantry clients are having to make difficult financial decisions such as choosing between purchasing medicine and food. “When you’ve got one in five kids in the U.S. that are hungry, there’s something wrong with that,” she said. While supporting food banks like Tarrant Area Food Bank during the holiday season is helpful, Melissa said support needs to go beyond that. “There needs to be a spirit of giving all year long.”