POCAHONTAS, Ark. (KAIT) - There’s a flurry of activity in the food pantry at Westridge Church of Christ in Pocahontas. That’s because it’s one of two days in the month where food boxes are about to be handed out in the community.
“You need another box?” Terry Baker asks Charlotte Heslop, a volunteer at the food pantry.
It’s the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest times for Terry Baker and volunteers in Pocahontas.
“There’s more chips, Charlotte.”
Cars are already lining up outside.
“We have the menu there on the board and so each person takes an item on the menu and they put it into the boxes,” Baker said.
A well-thought-out plan for feeding thousands.
“‘Course they get meat, bread, and a dessert,” Baker explained.
But being methodical is just who Terry Baker is.
He spent 35 years with the Health Department as an environmental supervisor for 18 counties in Northeast Arkansas overseeing the inspection of restaurants, grocery stores-- to pools and septic tanks.
Baker retired in 2011 and thought his life would slow down.
“It speeded up,” Baker said with a smile.
“We get a lot of meat from Walmart,” Baker says as he opens one of the many freezers at the church. “We probably get 150 pounds each week. 200 pounds each week.”
And Baker goes to pick it up or drives to the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas to get other food items.
“He drives a lot back and forth,” Raul Blasini, a volunteer at the food pantry said. “Go to Harps. Go to Walmart or the Food Bank in Jonesboro.”
That’s because the need for food in Randolph County is greater than ever.
“There are so many people who are unemployed right now,” Baker explained. “People who used to have jobs no longer have jobs. So the number of people that we see has tripled since the onset of COVID.”
“Last October, we fed 200 and some odd people, and this October, it was over 700,” Karen Pacini, a food pantry volunteer said. “So there’s a real need.”
Baker knows exactly how much is on hand and how much is needed to feed the hungry people who line up outside.
What he doesn’t know is that we are outside.
“Surprise!” the throng of people waiting outside the Westridge Church of Christ yell as Baker walks outside.
“Because of your kindness, your love and compassion for this community and filling a need and feeding those that are hungry, you are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness,” I said. “With that honor comes a little green.”
That’s when I take $408 and count it into Baker’s hand.
“We just appreciate your efforts in this community and I know that the people of Pocahontas and surrounding areas do,” David Daniel of First Community Bank said. “We appreciate the effort that you make to make their lives better.”
“I never thought it would happen to me,” Baker said shaking his head. “I don’t deserve it.”
“When you see people like him,” Blasini said. “You just go and do 100%.”
“I couldn’t do it by myself,” Baker said.
He gets emotional talking about his decision to step up and take over the program at his church.
“When the lady that was doing it quit, and I saw that no one else was going to do it, I know that it had to be done,” his voice breaks.”
“You stepped up?” I said.
“I did.... and it’s been a joy and a blessing,” Baker said.
Two times a month, usually the second and fourth Fridays, people come to the Westridge Church of Christ for food.
“It’s those that are without jobs,” Baker said. “They’ve never had to seek assistance before and it’s really hard on them.”
Thankfully, community businesses step up to help.
“Meat is expensive now,” Baker said. “It’s just a blessing that Walmart donates all this meat to us. Harps donates bread and bakery items.”
And Baker donates his time... lots of it.
“It’s strictly all volunteer,” Baker said. “But, it’s a blessing from God and the pay couldn’t be any better.”
Baker also serves as the maintenance man for the church and takes care of the upkeep outside, too.
A loyal and faithful servant every day of the week.