Food for the soul

Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry marks 50 years of service

By Jim Hannah

Photo: The Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry was awarded the first ever area Hunger Heroes award; photo: Ken Standifer

The year was 1968. Joyce Dauby, a volunteer with the Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry, found himself in a gritty section of the city in the dead of winter, standing on the dirt floor of a small cabin. He was staring at a couple and their two young, barefoot children.

The couple, in need of food, told Dauby there was only one pair of shoes for the children. So the kids would take turns wearing them to school, attending on alternate days.

“I’ll never forget that,” Dauby says. “I just can’t get that out of my mind. There were people that were desperate.”

Dauby joined Helping Hands in its early days and spent more than 20 years of his life helping it grow. The all-volunteer organization celebrated its 50th anniversary Feb. 15.

The need for the pantry has grown steadily. In 1982, Helping Hands filled 410 food orders. Today, it fills nearly that amount in a single month.

The Foodbank in Dayton, which serves Greene, Montgomery and Preble counties, estimates there are 125,700 men, women and children in that region who don’t know where they are going to get their next meal.

“There is a hunger problem out there,” Helping Hands volunteer John Smelko says.

The City of Miamisburg issued a proclamation declaring 2015 the year of the Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry. And The Foodbank in Dayton honored the pantry with a Hunger Heroes award, the first such award given to any of the 88 pantries in the food bank’s coverage area.

“It’s like getting the Congressional Medal of Honor,” says pantry volunteer Don Allen, who has been instrumental in building up the pantry in the past few years.

Dauby was one of the first officers of Helping Hands, joining founder George Butler. It began as a collaboration between the city’s churches.

“We were thrilled with the idea of all the churches working together to help people with different problems, mainly needs for food and heat. Families were freezing,” Dauby says. “But we never had much money. I remember when I took over as treasurer, we had $50.”

“It blows my mind at how the pantry has grown,” Dauby beams.

Food was donated by parishioners. Food drives were held by the schools and the Boy Scouts. Dauby even donated tomatoes from his own backyard.

For those in need of food, the pantry is a treasure chest.

Cartons of eggs and hamburger, sausage and other meats fill the refrigerators and freezers. Homemade wooden shelves house soups, ramen noodles and boxes of spaghetti and macaroni. There are sacks of potatoes and piles of breads. There are cans of Libby’s Sweet Peas, Del Monte Pineapple Chunks, Dakota’s Pride Pork & Beans and Arctic Star Pink Salmon.

The pantry distributes 400 to 450 pounds of meat a week. In the summer, there is fresh produce, much of it donated by local farmers. Each food order is designed to last a family up to five days. During the holidays, volunteers prepare about 450 Christmas food packages. Each 18-item package is designed for one full day of meals.

Allen has used his personal truck to pick up produce from farmers and food donations from barrels around the area.

“Working here gives you a feeling like nothing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “There is nothing that gives you the personal satisfaction as doing something like this. It’s unbelievable.”

Allen says the volunteers, for which there is a waiting list, try to make those who come to the pantry feel good because they already feel down.

“Their self-esteem is low,” he says. “We want them to know they are not second-class citizens, just in a bad spot. They are good people.”

The need is steadily growing. In October 2013, the pantry served 718 people 10,770 meals. In the same month a year later, 1,209 people were served 18,135 meals.

Volunteers Julie Slivinski and Barb Standifer are also among the soldiers of Helping Hands.

Standifer recalls being worried during the Christmas of 2010 because donations were down and reserves had shrunk to only $8,000.

“What I learned from that is that a lot of it is a walk in faith,” she says. “It might be down low now, but you’ve just got to trust that it’s coming right back. We have a great community that supports us.”

Smelko got involved with Helping Hands after he began distributing surplus cheese, butter, flour, rice, powdered milk and other government commodities at churches, apartment complexes and parking lots in the ’70s.

Smelko said he grew up poor and understands how important it is to help feed the hungry. After a mass layoff at a paper mill in West Carrollton in the ’80s, one former worker asked Smelko if he could spare an extra block of cheese for his four children.

“It makes you almost want to cry,” Smelko says. “As a matter of fact, one time I did. But I didn’t let him see the tears. I turned my head.”

[Editor’s note: Joyce Dauby passed away Thursday, May 17 at age 91. He had been involved with the Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry for nearly 20 years.]

The Miamisburg Helping Hands Food Pantry is located at 224 E. Maple Ave. The pantry is open Monday from 6-8 p.m., Wednesday and Friday from 2-4 p.m. and the last Saturday of the month from 10-12 a.m. For more information, please call 937.866.9323 or visit facebook.com/Miamisburghelpinghands.

Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Hannah at JimHannah@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Jim Hannah
Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Hannah at ContactUs@DaytonCityPaper.com

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