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Fairborn FISH Food Pantry Adapts To Increased Need During Pandemic

Jane Doorley (3rd from left) and pantry volunteers brainstorm before getting to work for the day, and say "It's all about teamwork!"
Jane Doorley
Jane Doorley (3rd from left) and pantry volunteers brainstorm before getting to work for the day, and say "It's all about teamwork!"

Since the early 1970s, the Fairborn FISH Food Pantry has been a unique refuge for people in need. Anyone is welcome to stop in, talk with the employees, enjoy some live, local music — and pick up food and other necessary household supplies. Right now COVID has changed a lot of that. But the pantry is serving more people than ever.

Jane Doorley and her husband Bill are Fairborn FISH Food Pantry’s founders. Jane spoke with WYSO’s Jerry Kenney about their start, and how they’ve had to adapt in a changing world.

Jane Doorley: I've seen some pretty significant changes in the last five or six years where, you know, we have the food pantry, but we've also created an eat pantry, like a Kroger click list, where they click on their side and they select the day they want to pick up food and the location and the time. And then we do food distributions for those neighbors in need who are either working, or for some reason or another can't get here when we're open. We have a client helpline now. We pay utility bills, help with rent, do a lot of referrals. But, our primary purpose is, and it's always been since 1971, helping feed the hungry in our community.

Jerry Kenney: Let's go back to 1971 and tell me how you got into this work. What what drives you?

JD: I think, you know, I mean, for me personally, I grew up in a family that felt, that had a strong value that you needed to give to others. And then when my husband and I were first married, we delivered food to families in the evenings, and then once we retired, then we became kind of full-time managers of Fish Food pantry. But it's really just a sense that if you can, you need to help make your community better. And it just, I think is just heartbreaking to think of people in our country that go to bed hungry.

JK: Specifically, due to COVID, tell me how your business has changed since then.

JD: Well, I mean, without a doubt, we've seen escalation of hunger of people in our neighborhood before COVID. We would probably provide food to about 150 families a week and now it's more than 300 families a week. So, every week we're giving food to about a thousand people, which is just amazing, if you think about it.

But. what's been interesting is that we've seen a 50 percent increase in people seeking help for the first time. So, you know, we're we're approaching people and finding that never in their lives had they ever had to go to a food pantry. And it's something that's just really heartbreaking about that, you know. And they tell us their story, whether they were working in the service industry and their restaurant is closed or, you know, they've been laid off and they don't know when they're going to get a job. And, especially, I think families that were functioning just barely getting by. Then when their hours get cut, it's devastating for them.

And we're also seeing more and more families where they are cohabiting. There's always been some of that. But now we're hearing more stories about like a young a young mom will pull up in her car. And, you know, we know her and we greet her. She's only been here one time before. And then there's another lady in the back seat with three little kids, and they'll tell you that, well, my sister's gotten evicted and so now she's now living with us and they're sleeping on the floor or whatever. So, just the stories seem a lot sadder. And I do think loneliness is a part of it, too. They're so isolated. You know, when we go out and greet people, they kind of want to chat with us for a long time because they are feeling somewhat isolated.

JK: And explain ‘Fish’ to me. Just where does Fairborn FISH [come from]?

JD: I know. If you've not heard of it before, people think, do you give out fish here? You know. So, in Europe, in the 1800s there was a lot of hunger. All the orphanages were closed at that time by whoever was in rule, and so there was a lot of starvation. And what people did they put the symbol of a fish, you know, the symbol of Christ, the fish, in their window, and then that told all their neighbors that they need they desperately needed food. So, fish food pantries kind of cropped up all over Europe and then they came over to the United States as well. So that's why there are kind of fish food pantries throughout our country.

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.