C.A.L.L. Ministries, the June recipient of Mercer Savings Bank’s Giving Mission, began nearly three decades ago as a food pantry in the basement of a local religious organization. Now, it fills a spacious building on North Brandon Avenue in Celina, complete with a warehouse to store the sometimes semi-loads full of donations. Over 100 volunteers work at the charity, which serves over 750 families (involving over 2,000 individuals every month) and 55,000 meals per year.
Learn more about this deserving organization in this month’s Mission Giving spotlight!
A Celina and Mercer County Organization Providing Food—and Much More—to Those Who Need It
C.A.L.L. Ministries stands for Community Action Life Line and is a non-profit, Christian based organization serving the Mercer County area.
The primary focus, as C.A.L.L. Ministries Executive Director Homer Burnett explained, is the food pantry service. Clients have to apply to use the food pantry and once it’s verified that they meet the financial qualifications, they are invited to shop twice a month.
As they came in on a brisk day last month, they grabbed waiting shopping carts to peruse the aisles. The room filled with cheerful talk as volunteers started conversations with clients. This was all according to plan, as Homer noted.
“We’ve set it up to be a real grocery shopping experience,” he said. “A lot of places, people are given a box of food with certain foods. But we’ve tailored it to their shopping needs. They can choose what food they want.”
Food is obtained either through donations or bought using donated funds. C.A.L.L. works with other area food pantries to either buy in bulk for reduced rates or trade necessary items.
During the summer, local gardeners bring in fresh produce from their garden. There are literally acres of food flowing into the pantry at times, as Vantilburg Farms puts aside acres of sweet corn for the organization. The C.A.L.L outdoor garden and Aquaponics Center also supply fresh produce.
In addition to the staples of canned vegetables and fruits, grains, bread, milk, eggs, and meat, there’s also a table filled with specialty goods, which changes depending on what people donate beyond the ordinary groceries. In May, for example, Wal-Mart had donated leftover Easter candy and a few cheerful chocolate bunnies sat ready to be chosen.
Pets are not neglected, either. There’s also a dog and cat food shelf, Zak’s Corner, that clients can shop from. It honors a former area K-9 Unit dog and is stocked by donations from individuals, grocery stores and Pro-Pet in St. Marys.
Combining food and fellowship, there’s a free dinner served through the C.A.L.L Cafe every Tuesday at the fairgrounds. Thirteen local organization provide that meal by buying, preparing, and serving food.
C.A.L.L Ministries: Programs in Celina, Ohio
While the food pantry is the main focus of C.A.L.L. Ministries, it’s not the only one, as Homer pointed out.
“It’s surprising how many people don’t know that we exist. And those that do, think of us only as a food pantry. That is primarily what we do, and that’s what we started off as, but we have a lot of different programs.”
Here’s an overview of the different programs C.A.L.L Ministries offer—you might be surprised by just how many there are.
In a separate room located in the same building as the food pantry, a lush garden is tucked away: the Aquaponics Center.
The Aquaponics Center is helmed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic managers Terry Chapman and Charlene Huff. Chapman and Huff, along with their bevy of hard-working volunteers, plant and grow a stunning variety of delicious, fresh plants in the low, pink glow of the aquaponic plant system lights.
The plants are harvested weekly, and you can see the progress of the new plants added on a routine basis. Kale, gynura procumbens (known as longevity spinach), swiss chard, and a variety of Asian greens and different lettuces line the rows that float gently in nutrient-rich water. They’re all mixed together to create healthy, fresh salads for C.A.L.L. Ministries clients.
The water is kept healthy with a separate tank of nearly 200 yellow perch that feeds water into the system to provide a healthy environment for the plants with beneficial bacteria. When Huff and Chapman approach the fish tank, the fish rise to the surface because they’ve come to recognize their voices.
With his scientific mind, Chapman also notes that the center is the perfect learning environment for the community. Tours are welcome to visit the program to see how the system works. Kids are welcome, too. Chapman has a new surprise in the works for younger visitors. Hoping to spark their imagination, he’s growing “sensitive plants” that droop when touched, only to make a full recovery minutes later. “We’re starting to raise these. We can’t give little kids a fish but can give them one of these. They’ll find it fascinating,” he explained.
A volunteer donates basic wooden bed frames to get mattresses moved off of the floor. They’re free of charge to customers who need them.
The Clothing Pantry
Customers can also shop for clothes in the Clothing Pantry. Over 25,000 articles of clothing are distributed per year.
There are also other non-food items donated to the organization. For example, they recently received donations of laundry detergent and hygiene products from Proctor and Gamble, and the Mercer County Facial Hair Club regularly donates bikes for children.
Someone from the community donates birthday bags, which are gift bags that are “a party and a present all in one,” as Burnett explains. The bags are filled with festive paper plates, napkins, a cake mix, and a present for the boy or girl of honor. If C.A.L.L. volunteers know that a client has a child with a birthday coming up, they give them the bag as a special present.
Work 4 Program
Clients can work for larger appliances such as refrigerators and washers that are still in good working order. Typically, a client will put in about 8-12 hours per appliance.
For qualifying K-4 students, volunteers pack bags that contain two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks to provide the children with proper nutrition over the weekend. They can pick them up after school and slide them into their backpacks, hence the program name. Burnett said that nearly 300 bags go out every week to schools throughout the county.
Getting Involved with C.A.L.L Ministries.
This year, Mercer Savings Bank will give one office each month the opportunity to choose a charitable organization to receive $1,000. Along with the donation, offices will be able to collect items or run a similar campaign to bring awareness to the organization they have chosen. For the month of June, there will be a food drive at the Irmscher Boulevard office. Members of the public, along with staff, are invited to contribute.
Would you like to get involved with C.A.L.L. Ministries? You can volunteer your time, make a donation, or simply spread the good word. Learn more on their website, https://www.callfoodpantry.org/, or follow their Facebook page.