The Serving Area Military and Veterans Center, or SAM Center, in downtown Massillon is dedicated to serving the local community. 

“This may sound strange, but our goal is not just to feed people, but to also give people the resources they need to be self-sufficient,” said Bryan, president and CEO of the SAM Center.

Bryan, a 21-year Army National Guard Veteran, founded the SAM Center when programs and services for Stark County veterans started decreasing in 2015. He said the organization’s focus is on outreach and connecting veterans with resources.

“We couldn’t control the loss of services in Stark County,” Bryan said. “But we could control our reaction to that loss of services, so we set out to meet those needs and meet other needs that were in the community.”

Like many of the Foodbank’s partners, the SAM Center saw an increase in the number of neighbors seeking food assistance due to COVID-19.  “That was probably the hardest part for us to see,” Bryan said. “People in the community who were doing so well and were 100 percent self-sufficient, were thrown for a loop.” Bryan said the organization served clients from nine counties and 55 zip codes in November 2020.

This increase in demand for food led the SAM Center to open its doors to the general public for the first time. The organization now holds food programs that are open to the public in addition to its food programs that are specifically for service members, veterans and widows.

“With COVID-19, we saw longtime donors become clients. That was a very different experience for them and us,” Bryan said. “These are individuals who never utilized a food pantry ever in their life.”

Bryan said without the support of the Foodbank, the SAM Center’s ability to serve people in the community would be limited, especially during the past year. “We couldn’t have done what we did in 2020 without the partnership of the Foodbank. The Foodbank is a tremendous help in allowing us to reach more people in need.”