It’s a cold wintry morning in early January. Snowflakes drift silently down as I pull into the parking lot of the church. Despite the weather, the parking lot is full. The church foyer is crowded as men and women sit huddled on chairs and benches that line the wall.

Jennifer Norris comes to me and shakes my hand warmly as she introduces herself. She has a smile that lights up the entire room. Jennifer lives in Batavia. She has four children between the ages of nine and eighteen. Jennifer is a single mother, who started working when she was 16. She worked hard while going to school and started a family. Life was busy and stressful and Jennifer found herself struggling at times to keep things going. At the age of 28 she faced a crisis when her young daughter was diagnosed with a heart defect and had to undergo open-heart surgery. Jennifer was in nursing school at the time. Her grades plummeted and she was forced to drop out. Shortly afterwards, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with a severe case of anxiety disorder and agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces and crowded areas). In the years that followed, her mental challenges made it impossible for her to hold a regular job or even go to school.

As we chat that snowy morning, Jennifer’s humility, honesty and grace touch my heart. Agoraphobia makes her panic when she is in crowded situations and she is constantly worrying about being trapped or embarrassed in public. She heard about Inter Parish Ministry’s (IPM) mobile pantry at church. In the beginning, she would visit the pantry with a friend because she was afraid to attend on her own. Now she has developed strong friendships with the staff at IPM and she feels welcome and confident enough to visit on her own. “The folks at IPM are wonderful. The don’t judge me and they make me feel comfortable,” she says.

Although Jennifer receives SNAP benefits, those funds cannot feed her family for the entire month. So she visits the mobile pantry as well. “The fresh fruits and vegetables that I receive here help make sure that my children eat healthy meals,” she says. Jennifer also attends cooking classes that are offered by IPM in partnership with The Ohio State University’s Extension Office. The classes teach attendees the secret to eating smart for less. Jennifer has learned to cook and bake using the simplest ingredients. “I make everything from scratch and I’ve learned to be creative with food. I save tons of money by cooking at home,” she states. She focuses on picking nutritious foods from the pantry – going for the fresh vegetables, fruit and meat first. “Every bit of assistance helps when you are trying to raise a family,” she says. “The food that I receive here helps me make it through the month. I am less stressed about meals because I always have healthy options in my refrigerator after a visit to the pantry.”

Inter Parish Ministry provides food, clothing and support to families living in eastern Hamilton and Clermont counties. As one of the area’s largest choice food and clothing pantries, IPM’s focus is to empower and educate clients with information and tools to improve their lives. IPM is dedicated to enhancing the lives of those in need by feeding families and nourishing souls. In 2017, IPM provided food, clothing, and other forms of communal support to over 14,000 individuals. Recently they started holding mobile pantries every 30 days in order to meet the need of their clients.

“We greatly appreciate our partnership with the Freestore Foodbank,” says Chuck Swanson of Inter Parish Ministry. “We enjoy the flexibility and ease with which they are able to deliver food to us at our location of choice for our mobile pantries. It gives us the ability to serve more people every month.” The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with Inter Parish Ministries and we greatly value the opportunity to work with them to serve the community.