Portage County food program is the center of hope for local families

‘Go forth and do good,’ that’s the motto at Family & Community Services (FCS) and the mantra in which Lajoyce lives her life. “It’s a part of my heartbeat,” she says.

Lajoyce is the program manager at the Center of Hope, a hunger-relief program of FCS that offers hot meals six days per week and a food pantry for residents.

“The poverty in Portage County overwhelms me at times, but knowing we’re here to meet the needs of community members brings me satisfaction and makes me feel complete. It feels good to be a part of this work.”

She grew up in Portage County, her mother was a nurse, and her father was a pastor. Her parents were always giving back and serving people in their community. At the mere age of 7 she worked in the church’s food pantry, seeing hunger and heartache firsthand.

Her passion for helping others can be witnessed in how she interacts with and speaks about the people served by Center of Hope. “I love to laugh with them and hear their stories. I have to remind them every day that this will not last forever – we will meet again.”

The hot meal program typically offers a sense of community for the residents, especially the seniors who enjoy coming together to eat with their friends, play cards and socialize. Because of COVID-19, both the hot meals and pantry items are offered drive-thru style, limiting personal contact.

Since the pandemic started, Center of Hope has experienced a tremendous increase in the number of families it serves. On average, the program would serve 100 meals per day. During the height of the pandemic 300 meals were being served each day; the need has since leveled out to approximately 180.

Lajoyce and her staff are meeting new neighbors who have never needed help providing for their families. But she sees that many are having a hard time understanding their situation, and some are embarrassed to accept help. She and her staff try to explain that these resources are for the entire community.

“People heard about hunger, but now during this pandemic, people are living it. It can be at any one of our doorsteps.”

As Center of Hope continues to fight hunger in Portage County, we’re appreciative of their partnership and commitment to the community. It’s because of our work together that families have a place to turn during their time of need.