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Feeding the hungry in a time of thanksgiving
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 The Willing Helpers Food Pantry at Solid Rock Baptist Church has been serving the Lord and the community for 10 years. Located at 8111 Brown Bridge Road in Covington, this ministry serves 75-100 families each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The food pantry is financially supported by five local churches: Solid Rock Baptist, Oxford Baptist, Eastridge, Julia Porter United Methodist, Trinity Presbyterian and Zion Baptist. Other area churches and service organizations offer periodic support. A service club at Veterans Memorial Middle School called GEMS, Girls Engaged in Meaningful Service, organized and led by teachers Whitney Jackson and Jessica Jones, donated approximately 2,000 canned goods this week.

Kroger stores located on Salem and Kirkland roads and on U.S. Highway 278 donate daily. The Publix on Salem and Brown Bridge roads and Bell's Grocery donate on a regular basis.

The pantry works with twelve different ministries from Douglasville, Stockbridge, McDonough and Gainesville.

"We have two trucks that run," said Jack Vanderzwart, the food pantry's director. "His Harvest House in Gainesville gets a trailer every two weeks, and they feed about ten different ministries of which we are the largest. We buy a double section that ranges from four to 12 pallets."

The ministry has a contact at the Farmer's Market that donates fruit and vegetables. A bakery in Marietta donates breads and sweets on Tuesday morning. "We get enough bread to last a week," said Vanderzwart.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Vanderzwart moved to Atlanta in 1976 and graduated from The Art Institute of Atlanta with a degree in Visual Communications.

Vanderzwart's grandfather was a Methodist preacher.

"I turned away from the Lord when I was eighteen," he said. "A visitation team visited my home when I was 45 years old," he added. "I gave my life to the Lord there in my living room, and I have not been the same since."

Vanderzwart said his family moved to Covington nine years ago and must have visited 20-25 churches in a year. He told his wife Connie, daughter Alysha and son Jacob that each family member would be responsible for picking a church and they would attend there for one month before deciding which church to settle in.

"We came to Solid Rock Baptist Church and never left," he said.

While working at Delta, Vanderzwart volunteered at the pantry for four years. "It had crossed my mind that this was something I could do when the kids were out of the house," he said. "When Delta started going through bankruptcy, they began cutting back and outsourced 14 of us to another company with the choice to stay or leave after a year."

Vanderzwart retired in 2005 and accepted the position as director of the food pantry. Two months later, he went on his first mission trip to Mexico.

"The Lord truly humbled me there to know how blessed I am - how blessed we are as a people," he said. "You can see pictures, but unless you go, you don't know what it's like unless you see it, smell it, taste it."

The teams visited three villages.

"I had seen so much that we take for granted," he said. "I couldn't even get out of the van at the third village - I just stayed in there and cried like a baby."

The plywood churches were built in two and one half days and the team distributed food in the villages on the third day.

"The people would literally have services in them at night while we were still building," Vanderzwart said. "It was a cathedral to them; yet, we were the ones being blessed."

Since becoming director ,Vanderzwart said that he had become aware of many needs in our community.

"There are so many people that are choosing between medicine and utilities or rent and food," he said. "There are those who have lived in their home for 20 to 30 years, and now retired, they don't have enough money to pay their taxes."

Vanderzwart said the pantry sends their benevolence to Faith Works to help people with their utilities.

"They do a much better job in interviewing the people and in contacting the utility companies," he added.

Patrons who visit the pantry go through a process that usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. They are asked to give an $8 donation to supplement the operations' high utility and gas expenses. Larger families can make a donation for two boxes that allows them to get more food. The first time, they are asked to bring a picture ID and are issued a card that tells them when they can return.

They complete personal, demographic and ethnic information which is entered into the computer. They get a cart and make choices from the shelves equivalent to $50 to $60 in groceries.

"We are trying to win them to the Lord," said Vanderzwart. "Some people come for a sense of family because they feel the love of Jesus here."

Last September, Vanderzwart said they got down to three pallets of food left in the trailers.

Fort Gillem donated 800 boxed lunches - two pallets that stood high as the door. Days later, they gave two more pallets. Bell's Grocery donated 12 pallets of food.

"That's the kind of things I have seen God do over and over again," he said. "He continuously makes my jaw hit the floor."