By J.M. Copeland
For Hometown News
The first thing you notice about Mary Thomas is she is always smiling. The same is true for her volunteers dressed in turquoise T-shirts.
Ms. Thomas is the director of The Love Center, an outreach of Calvary Christian Church.
"We are unique," Ms. Thomas said. "We are not a food pantry or a food bank. We are more. We are a love center."
While food is the priority of the Love Center at 498 S. Yonge St. in Ormond Beach, it also has clean clothes, furniture and toys for the little ones. Available items depend on the donations received.
Every week 175 families are assisted at the center, 1,050 in a six-week period. Visits are limited to once every six weeks.
"New people come in and tell us how many people are in their family," Ms. Thomas said. "They are also given another appointment for six weeks. We want to reach out to as many people as we can."
A piece of paper with the number of people, and if there are children in the family, is given to volunteers who fill each order with meat, vegetables, bread and fruit. On this day Second Harvest donated Lunchables and soft drinks, which were added.
The volunteer at the front desk asked if the family has a way to cook meals. Many are living in the woods or in hotels and do not have the facilities to cook. Appropriate shelf food and food that can be prepared without access to a kitchen is then added to the bags. Ms. Thomas said everyone leaves with enough food for five or six "good" meals.
The shoppers all have a different story, some are homeless, some live in temporary housing and others work, but don't make enough to make ends meet between paychecks.
"One lady broke out into tears at the checkout," Ms. Thomas recalled. "She said 'I never thought I'd have to do this.' We need to let everyone know that they don't need to be embarrassed, everyone needs a little help sometimes."
While they wait for their food, customers go into the adjoining rooms filled with clothing and other odds and ends. Community donations are always appreciated and can be left in the drop box behind the store or brought in during store hours; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, noon to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays.
"We like people to come in and see what they are donating to," Ms. Thomas said. "We always need clothes, especially men's jeans."
Volunteer Patty Lloyd is candid about how she came to volunteer.
"It was court ordered," she said. "I was in jail when I met the Calvary team and it was the best thing to happen to me when I went to jail."
Ms. Lloyd was assigned 59 hours of community service, hours she completed four months ago. She stayed on and averages 25-30 volunteer hours a week.
"I like the way they treat the people here," she said.
The team doesn't limit itself to the center. Every Saturday, the street ministry drives around with sandwiches, snacks and water. They also tell people about Calvary Christian Church and the buses available to take them to Sunday Services. Ms. Thomas knows many initially go to the church service because they can get a shower, clean clothes and a hot meal. But she has faith the Holy Spirit will do the rest.
"We want to give them a hand up and we know the only way to the best life you can have is with the Lord almighty," she said. "We want them to know they are not alone."
The Love Center has its own needs -- a larger building and a box truck with a tailgate lift.
"We are praying for the box truck," Ms. Thomas said.
Folks that try to leave with a handshake quickly learn the rules of the Love Center.
"We don't shake hands, we hug," Ms. Thomas said.