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Lebanon Food Pantry honors a founding member

Phyllis Wyatt
Phyllis Wyatt

Phyllis Wyatt is a longtime volunteer.

As a founding member and volunteer, Phyllis Wyatt served the Lebanon Food Pantry for more than 32 years. This holiday season, officials from the pantry will honor Wyatt for her commitment and dedication to the pantry. She was part of a group of volunteers that started the nonprofit pantry in 1985. Phyllis and her husband, Frank Wyatt lived in Lebanon for many years. The couple had been married for 61 at the time of Frank’s passing in July of 2017. Phyllis and Frank have two children, Krista and Mike, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Wyatt served as a trustee at the Lebanon Food Pantry from 1985 to 2011 and as the president from 2011 to 2017. Another significant endeavor Wyatt spearheaded through area churches was the delivery of more than 600 food baskets to local families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to her work at Lebanon Food Pantry and in church, Wyatt was a secretary at Berry Middle School in Lebanon for more than 30 years. Wyatt retired in 2017 from the pantry due to health issues. We talked to Tom Davidson, president and treasurer at Lebanon Food Pantry, who shared more about Phyllis, her heart for people and her motivation for serving the poor.

The Lebanon Food Pantry was originally formed by 13 Lebanon-area churches. It serves individuals and families in need in the Lebanon School District. Currently, the pantry serves more than 400 families each month, which includes 12,000 adults, plus their children. Families can receive food from the pantry once a month throughout the year. Lebanon Food Pantry is located at 190 S. New Street in Lebanon (Post Office Box 534). Call (513) 932-3617 for more information.

Q: How would you describe Phyllis as a person?

A: She was one of those people that really wanted to feed the poor. She had a great heart for that. What we had printed on the plaque we had made for her sums up her personality, "She reached out to all who needed a helping hand." The plaque, along with a photo of Phyllis, will be a permanent fixture at the pantry. I will present the plaque at the next board meeting, which will be held on the second Tuesday of January.

Q: What do you think was the biggest contribution Phyllis made to the community through her work at the Lebanon Food Pantry?

A: She had a heart to feed the low-income families in Lebanon. When we formed the pantry, it was just a food pantry. The building we are in, the Academy Building, is owned by the City of Lebanon, and she expanded that into a free clothing store as part of it, and a toy program for children, "Toys for Children." Also, she allowed the Lebanon Community Center to operate out of the building.

It was also her longevity. She stayed with it for all those years, and it grew. That speaks for itself. She treated everyone equally without discrimination. She reached out to the community with a helpful hand. When they started (the food pantry,) they would serve four or five families on a typical service day. Now, we serve 40 to 50 families on an average service day.

Q: On a practical level, how did Phyllis’ work help families in the community?

A: She had signed an agreement with one of the national food banks in Fairfield, Shared Harvest Food Bank, and we get some subsidized food both from the state and federal level through them. What's different about the Lebanon Food Pantry is it was formed by 13 local churches in the Lebanon School District. And, those 13 local churches support us throughout the year. So, we're set up a little different than most food banks. Probably because of the longevity that we've had, the churches have been very loyal to us. We only serve the Lebanon School District. We don't serve anyone outside of the school district. We serve more than 400 families monthly.

We also have a cooperative agreement with the Walmart store here in Lebanon. They send us food that’s near the date to sell, and we get that three times a week, whenever we’re open. (And, that’s part of the Shared Harvest program.) It’s also a national program that Walmart has across the country with all the local food banks.

The pantry has a total of about 91 volunteers. The pantry is run solely by volunteers. We have no paid positions at our food pantry. There’s no salaries for anyone.

Q: How have you seen the Lebanon Food Pantry continue to meet the needs of the community?

A: We saw a great increase about five years ago in the number of people coming in, that we are serving. Probably from about 2009 or 2010 up until about 2015, we saw about a 30 percent increase in the number of families that were coming in. This was due to the economic conditions. Now, this past year, we saw a decrease of about five percent, because the economy is improving. A lot of the families that come in are single-family parents, both male and female. But, the biggest increase we've seen in the last few years is the number of people over 60-years-old that are asking for assistance. That's very important. And, I think those are national trends…I don't like the phrase, but it's the "working poor." If you make $10 to $12 per hour, you're going to fall into these categories.

Q: Talk a little more about the plaque that will be presented to honor Phyllis at the next board meeting.

A: In addition to myself, there are other people on the board. The vice president is Debra Jayne and Kristin Davenport serves as the secretary.

Q: Do you have other plaques of people that you’ve honored on the wall?

A: No, this will be the first one.

Q: What else do you admire about Phyllis?

A: One other thing that Phyllis had a heart for, and it had nothing to do with the food pantry, was to work with the local churches in town to do what they call "Thanksgiving Baskets" and "Christmas Baskets." She organized the program, and that was over 600 baskets that would go out through the churches. That is separate from the pantry, and it has nothing to do with the pantry, but that's one of the services that she had with the City. Phyllis had been a longtime member of the garden club. She had a lot of civic responsibility. She gave back to the City.

Contact this contributing writer at gmwriteon@aol.com.