NEWCOMERSTOWN — Pastor Matt Leonard led the way into a small corner room in Journey’s End Ministries. Their little sanctuary, complete with an altar and kneeler, had been a storage unit until recently. The prayer room is part of the spiritual encouragement that the facility hopes to provide to those in need.
"This room used to be wall to wall clothing storage. It took us a year to convince people this is what we needed," Leonard said. "The response has been phenomenal."
The prayer room is one facet of the ministry, which gave about two million pounds of food away last year. Their goal is to provide as much nourishment to people as possible— visitors can get food, clothing and an ear to bend in one place. Outside the room, a toddler reaches for a book in the children’s section and families search for the right fit for clothing. Lively music plays over an old stereo. Their clothes section is at least the size of a typical shopping mall store and is full of free clothing for those who need it.
Another room is lined with shelves of food — drinks, snacks, non perishables, all of which are brand names. Those who qualify are welcome to fill their carts with what they need.
Most of the clothes are donated, but the food is another story. Journey’s End is an engaged associate of the Akron-Canton Food Bank, which supplies them with a fixed set of goods. From there, they use all the money donated to purchase food.
"It cost us $110,000 to give everything away last year," Leonard said.
Upkeep and maintenance takes its toll. Their truck, which they rely on to keep their food pantry stocked, is currently in the shop. The pantry typically moves about 60,000 pounds a week, and the truck is a necessity to get the food for the community.
The Leonards’ idea of community, meanwhile, is the entire state. Last year, people come from 22 counties and 84 ZIP codes to get to Journey’s End. In total, they served about 70,000 individuals and 20,000 families, all of whom have to register to receive some aid. Lisa Leonard, Matt’s wife, said there’s a balance to their need base as well.
"We have people who drive an hour and a half to bring things to our store," Lisa Leonard said "They know 100 percent of it goes to the people."
Many of the 65 volunteers at the ministry first walked through the doors as one of those in need. Mary Toney, who’s been helping out for nine years, came when her husband had stage four bladder cancer. She needed help, and the ministry provided. She credits God for her husband’s eventual recovery. Toney’s been working at the ministry since.
"God gave me back my husband, now I’m giving him 100 percent," Toney said. "If we all did our Father’s work, we’d have enough to do in this world."
Spiritual outreach is naturally a huge motivator for the volunteers, but no religious interaction is required for assistance. If people want to talk, they’re there. If not, the shelves are just as full. Pastor Leonard said it’s important to help whoever they can, regardless of whether or not they’re interested in God.
"Preaching the word is good, but we’re called to live it, too," Leonard said.
Leonard led a tour through the back of the facility, where they had a two room storage area that was kept cool with an AC system they got through a donation from Baker’s IGA in Newcomerstown. Leonard figured about 50 skids could fit on the floor, and from there they could be stacked. The area was a bit emptier than usual.
"The truck’s still in the shop," Leonard mentioned again. "Luckily, we have this space we stored extra in. The visitors most likely didn’t even notice the shortage.’
As the tour continues, volunteers zipped in and out of the back, clearly on a mission. Leonard brought up a shipment of Batman pajama costumes they’re offering for Halloween. That way, kids get a costume they’ll use more than once. As we finished the tour, Leonard took a call. He broke into a smile and shared the good news.
"We got the truck back," he said with a smile.