CENTRAL CITY — The people of Merrick County enjoy good fellowship as they hand out food once a month.
“It’s so much fun. This is my favorite day of the month,” said the Rev. Tom Lucas of Central City United Methodist Church, which organizes the Merrick County drive-thru food bank.
About 25 volunteers showed up Saturday morning at the Merrick County Fairgrounds to hand out food to people in 225 cars.
Lucas wasn’t the only one having a good time as he labored.
Jeff “Speckles” Wichman of Chapman was the first one on the scene Saturday, arriving at 7 a.m.
He sets up the cones, directs traffic and does whatever else needs to be done.
Wichman has been pitching in for 10 years. “I enjoy doing it, and I look forward to it,” he said.
Richard Barnes and Norman Balliet were in a good mood as they labored away.
“It’s the only exercise I’ve had this month,” Barnes said.
Barnes was wearing a light jacket, while Balliet wore a scarf, a good coat and Sorel boots — the kind worn by the Canadian armed forces.
“I think he’s overdressed myself,” Barnes said.
Balliet’s wife, Linda, said the day was refreshing, and it “was good to see people out.”
Make no mistake, though. The volunteers know their work is important.
“The need for this is greater than you would ever imagine,” Norman Balliet said.
Linda Balliet said they were helping people in a time of need, feeding those who can’t feed themselves.
Monte Hopkins said he’s “so proud” of the community’s food bank effort. When he and his wife, Patricia, leave town during the summer, they miss working at the food bank.
The food bank is offered 12 months a year, usually on the first Saturday of the month.
The volunteers do the work for “the greater good of man,” said Natalie Foulk.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re taking care of people,” Lucas said.
The food is provided by Food Bank for the Heartland in Omaha. Each box of nonperishable food carried the label “Disaster Response.”
Recipients also received produce, bread and milk.
The semitruck from Omaha arrived at about 10 a.m. Foulk signs for the food.
The work is worth it when they see the families come through, Foulk said.
Couples say thank you, kids wave “and everybody’s always so grateful for what they get,” said Foulk, who attends Zion Methodist Church in Archer.
“There are always people that are hungry,” Lucas said.
The number has grown in the last year. Last January, 150 cars lined up to receive food. The number of families getting food is now up to 225.
“It’s a value to the community — something important,” Lucas said.
Only about half of the volunteers are from Central City United Methodist. It’s a communitywide effort, Lucas said.
Central City United Methodist assumed leadership of the program three years ago. The food bank was started 10 or 15 years ago by the Merrick County Sheriff’s Office, Lucas said. A local family took over before the church started running it.
A woman worried there wouldn’t be enough volunteers Saturday. Church secretary Tina Boroviak told her not to worry. “God provides,” she said.
There’s always enough people to help.
The volunteers are tightly knit.
“We’re real close,” Wichman said.
Hopkins uses his military background to make sure the distribution is run safely and efficiently. As a member of the South Dakota National Guard, he helped with the building and dismantling of field hospitals, spending six months in Iraq.
The distribution ran from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Most of the volunteers arrived at 8:30 a.m., not leaving until noon or 1 p.m.
Recipients don’t have to meet any qualifications. The volunteers just ask someone in each car how many family members need food.
After the boxes are distributed, some of the volunteers deliver food to people’s homes.
Some of the leftover food goes to veterans. United Methodist Church maintains a food bank.
Although most of the recipients are from Merrick County, some of the cars come from Polk, Nance, Howard, Hamilton, York and other counties.
Lucas is pleased that the Merrick County community steps up.
“We get called to care for each other,” he said. “What better way can you do it?”