Felicity, Ohio could be straight out of a picture book. I drive slowly down quiet streets with little traffic, past tiny homes with pretty flowers in their windows, a corner bakery with a friendly sign on its door, a church with a gorgeous steeple and a school with a colorful playground. Tucked in the middle of the town is a Methodist church, home to a large pantry run by the Felicity Community Mission, a partner-agency to the Freestore Foodbank. Annie Ridener meets me at the door with a warm smile and handshake. Annie is friendly and energetic and her smiling face is framed with brown curls sneaking out from under a baseball cap. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I am ushered into the church and up the stairs to a large, airy dining room. A box of sugar cookies lies open on the table. Every Saturday of the month, volunteers at the Mission gather in this room to serve a “community lunch” to close to 100 individuals. “Our Saturday lunch pulls the community together,” Annie comments. “Almost every week we see retired folks come in, eat lunch and stay to chat. Kids ride over on their bikes, throw their bikes on the lawn and come upstairs to get a bite to eat. And then they get back on their bikes and are gone. This has become a tradition in this town.”
Annie drove the local school bus many years ago. She’s lived in Felicity for more than 30 years. Every passing year she noticed the worsening conditions in the town. When the Ford company in Eastgate closed its doors, the last of the jobs were gone. With the decline in the tobacco industry, even the farmers were out of work. Tucked away in the deep recesses of rural Ohio, Felicity was far from stores, pharmacies, public transportation. “I had worked in Cincinnati and witnessed poverty there,” Annie remarks. “However, the poverty I saw in Felicity was different. This was poverty in absolute isolation. And it was chilling.” In 1980, her friend Bob Laubach who was a sixth-grade teacher and later the local middle school principal at the local school started the Felicity Community Mission in an effort to help. He started distributing food from his aunt’s bedroom to a handful of people. The scope of the project expanded and he moved into the church to continue to serve the community. Today in a town with 835 residents, Felicity Community Mission serves close to 600 individuals every month.
In addition to fresh produce and canned items, volunteers pick up meat and baked goods from local stores such as Kroger and Sam’s Club. “Our partnership with the Freestore Foodbank has been a wonderful thing!” says Bob. “It has given us access to fresh produce and meat from local stores. The Freestore Foodbank also delivers food to us regularly on their truck and that has been amazing!” Recently Felicity Community Mission received a grant from the Freestore Foodbank to purchase a walk-in freezer. This has helped them increase their capacity significantly. “The freezer is so huge you can park a car in it,” observes Annie. “We use it to store turkeys and ham for the holidays. This has helped make a real difference in the community.” Personal hygiene products are in great demand and the Mission offers every family shampoo, tooth paste and other essential items. The Mission has a partnership with the local school and the students regularly volunteer there – helping to load and unload food and push carts. Annie, Bob and their helpers are busy getting prepared for the holiday season. Recently a low-cost senior housing center
opened close to them. Annie worked hard to gain rights to deliver food to the elderly residents and now she gladly drops off 140 bags of food once a month to 22 senior citizens who live there. This is in addition to the 134 senior boxes that the Freestore Foodbank delivers directly every month. “Having fresh and healthy food delivered directly to them made all the difference in the world to the seniors,” Bob adds. “Many of them were diabetic and a few of them were bed-ridden. This made a direct impact on their lives.”
The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with Felicity Community Mission. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with agencies in and across the tristate region so that we can help our neighbors wherever they are by improving their access to nutritious food.