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Elmira reverend fights hunger by opening new food pantry

More than 52% of residents in Hawthorne Court, the projects of Elmira, have incomes below the poverty level, according to City Data.

“When you come from that kind of situation you know when the food’s running out, and the food stamps are running out,” Reverend Randy Jackson of Frontline Family Ministry said. “…I wasn’t going to live like that.” Jackson also wanted to help his neighbors, so 25 years ago he made it his life mission to improve the lives of the poor in Elmira.

In 2014, Jackson founded the organization, Let Elmira Live, to address the needs of Hawthorne residents and the greater Elmira community as well. This June, Jackson is opening a new Let Elmira Live center that will contain both a soup kitchen and a food pantry.

Nearby in Pine City, a suburb of Elmira, is the county’s largest food pantry, the Pennsylvania Avenue United Methodist Church food pantry. The UMC food pantry supplies $1,500 people a month with groceries, Darlene Bachman, a volunteer. The addition of the pantry at the center will be more accessible for those who cannot travel to get groceries and a hot meal. Jackson enlisted the help of Bachman and Mary McGrain, both UMC food pantry volunteers, to run the new service at the center.

“I’ve been doing this [working at UMC food pantry] for 11 years,” said Bachman. Bachman and Jackson have been working together in the Elmira community for 10 years.

“We’ve (Jackson, Bachman and McGrain) have connected and said there’s no reason children or a family should ever go hungry. We’d like to do something, so we’re going to do something.” Jackson said.

“One out of every six children in this area are hungry,” McGrain said. In a population of 29,000 approximately 6,800 are children.

According to the 2015 New York state health rankings Chemung County, Elmira’s county, is the 3rd unhealthiest county in New York. “A big reason for that is because of the poverty,” Jackson said.

“Communities and governments come to churches and say, ‘help us’ and we say ‘I can do that but you’re asking me to feed 10,000, is there any money set up in the budget?’” Jackson said. However, Jackson would experience roadblocks when it came to funding because of his religious affiliation. “They say no because you’re a religious organization, so what we had to do was we had to separate – literally – church here, Let Elmira Live over here. Two separate entities…. two different organizations. And that is how it is run,” Jackson said.

Let Elmira Live has other outreach programs such as after-school homework assistance for children of all ages, Toy for Tots giveaways, and an up and coming thrift store.

“You want to change the cycle,” Helen Jackson, the wife of Jackson, said. Helen Jackson’s main role is to run the after-school assistance program at the Frontline Community Center in Hawthorne Court. “We have worked diligently to build relationships that will go beyond here. Our goal is to see them successful – finish school, go on to college, have a successful career, and find a way to help somebody.”

“We take an aggressive approach, we have a good congregation but we are not an inside the walls church at all,” Jackson said. “We are very much outside, in the streets, helping people.”

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