Pastor Mike exudes warmth and kindness. It’s clear his heart is in his work and with his community.

A pastor who wears many hats, he answers phones, accepts deliveries and helps to ensure thousands of people have access to food each month.

Crossroads United Methodist Church in Canton has been operating a food program for more than 30 years. But since Pastor Mike began leading these efforts in 2020 amidst the pandemic, the program has seen major changes.  

“We now operate from a place of abundance, rather than a scarcity model. We want people to take what they need and come as often as they need to,” he said.

The church picks up food from the Foodbank five times per week, and focuses heavily on sourcing fresh produce, dairy and other nutritious foods. Realizing these items tend to be more costly at the supermarket, they hope to help stretch a family’s budget.

Now open four days per week at two locations, Canton Fresh Market serves 250-350 households per day. The food program has three part-time staff and a host of volunteers, many of whom are food recipients themselves.

“This is where the magic happens. Volunteers come from all religious backgrounds, the court system and through the SNAP/WIC program – it’s a full team effort,” said Pastor Mike.

Shoppers tend to line up early. Rather than have them wait outside, the church now offers a hospitality hour. Volunteers serve coffee and pastries, making sure people feel welcome. In the winter months, this serves as an opportunity for people to warm up.

A unique aspect of Canton Fresh Market is that it serves a very diverse population. Immigrants and refugees from all over the world have made Canton their home – 25% of shoppers are non-native English speakers. A pantry employee speaks fluent Spanish and can act as a translator when needed.

Staff have heard heartbreaking stories about the tragic circumstances and journeys many have gone through to escape their native country.

Because of the demographics served, Canton Fresh Market has access to culturally diverse foods on the Foodbank’s menu, made available through grant funding from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The Local Food Purchase Assistance program (LFPA) ensures specialty food items are procured for families from different cultures and those who eat particular items due to religious traditions.

“If we can offer food that looks familiar, nourishes and reminds someone of home, and brings them peace and comfort, why wouldn’t we? It’s been cool to see people light up with a smile as they see foods they recognize,” said Pastor Mike.

“The Foodbank is a key partner for us because it allows us to do great, bold things to transform our community,” said Pastor Mike. “Together we can solve hunger because there’s enough food in this country to go around.”