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Hearts Food Pantry Express at Elim Life Church in Livingston County

Back in September 2023, Hearts shared the news of the “Hearts Food Pantry Express Expansion to Livingston County”. Hearts was awarded a $50,000 grant to pilot the Food Pantry Express program in Livingston County. We partnered with the Rochester Area Community Foundation (RACF) to take the bus on the road from Buffalo and had the opportunity to serve those in need with the dignity of a client-choice food pantry. 

It’s fair to say that the launch of Hearts Food Pantry Express at Elim Life Church in Livingston County was an overwhelming success! As we pulled into the parking lot of the church last week Wednesday, July 3rd, we were welcomed by Pastor Nathan and Bree, staff members at Elim Life Church (ELC), and received a warm welcome from them both. It was great to put faces to names as we have been planning this day virtually for months.

ELC and their congregation were more than just letting us use their site, they truly did host the program well before we pulled onto the parking lot. They had several volunteers ready to lend a hand from signing people in to becoming our newest shopping assistants who helped the clients select their grocery items. They even provided a volunteer who would take full bags and boxes of food and bring them to the vehicles of the clients. Everyone was so kind and welcoming to Hearts and to their neighbors. You could see the compassion to serve others through each conversation and act of service.

Leading up to the service day, ELC printed out 550 of the flyers they were provided by Hearts and went door to door and to local businesses and community spots around the county spreading the word about the program. They shared the promotional graphic on Facebook community pages which is where a few of our clients did end up hearing about us and coming out to see us on the first day of service. One of the volunteers said that “word of mouth is everything” in their community and she heard people talking about the pantry bus coming the week before the launch at the local grocery store and at the senior center/community center.

As Hearts Staff walked up and down the line of clients waiting to jump on the bus and see what a mobile pantry had to offer, we were amazed by the different stories these community members shared. One woman we spoke with has a family of eight. She expressed that she was incredibly excited to see what food we had available as her family goes through so much food each week; it is hard to keep up with the grocery runs and the grocery bills. As she was leaving the bus with arms full of groceries and two volunteers following her with more boxes full of food, she had a huge smile on her face and said “Wow! Thank you!”.

With the 4th of July holiday being the very next day, we had “holiday” produce available, including fresh ears of corn, potatoes and onions, and fresh heads of lettuce. We also had some baby formula and speciality bread that was donated to us that we were able to provide during this service.

A lovely group of three ladies were such a joy to speak with in the pantry line. They are a group of sisters who are seniors and live in different towns within Livingston County. They asked us why we came all the way from Buffalo to do this and we shared with them that there was someone who wanted to give back to this community and long story short, that is why we were able to come out to this site. One of the sisters turned to me with tears in her eyes and said “I can’t believe someone would care this much about strangers like us”. We shared with them that this pantry bus in front of them is just a small glimpse of how much Jesus cares for us. He cares so much that He will touch the heart of someone with the resources to give and He moved our hearts in Buffalo to say yes to make the journey east. It was a very powerful moment for all four of us as we reflected on the good that does exist in the world today, even if it’s hard to find it. 

As we were on the bus restocking shelves, about halfway through the service, one of the ELC volunteers was shopping with a client. As they were selecting her items, the client got to the part of the bus where we were stocking and she pulled out her checkbook from her purse and asked how much that she owed us for the groceries. We explained that everything on the bus was free of charge because someone had already paid it forward and to go and be blessed. The woman was in tears and hugged us saying that the event was a true gift for her. She is a single senior and has been unable to find a job that would provide her enough money to get by due to her physical disadvantages. She walked off the bus repeating to herself “This is just incredible!”. 

At the end of the three hours of service, we served 30 families, 105 individuals, and 630 meals! 

We went to Lima to be a blessing and drove home completely blessed ourselves. The clients, the ELC team and us from Hearts all shared throughout the day how we felt the love of God so strongly, you couldn’t run from His love. Everyone walked away “fed” that day.

Written by Kelsey J., Hearts’ Chief of Staff 

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