Paying it forward: Retired and still working hard

At a time when some people may have already retired, Tunnel resident Sherry Coffman still works five days a week.

But on the fourth Thursday of every month, she leaves her job as a one-on-one aide at Ewing School early to spend the afternoon at the Western Washington County Food Pantry, an organization she’s worked with for more than 20 years.

“We started as an emergency, three-day food supply,” said Coffman, 71. “And then we had to expand to you can come six times a year and you have to have a six-week interval.

“A three-day food supply was OK, but then what do you do?” she said.

Located at 18 High St. in Vincent, the pantry serves approximately 550 residents of Barlow, Dunham, Palmer and Warren townships each year and is supported by about 10 churches in the area, according to Linda Allen, head of the pantry. Coffman is a member of Tunnel United Methodist Church, one of the churches that started the pantry in 1991, and a founding board member.

She’s stayed on the board and continued to work at the pantry because it meets a need in the community and she was connected to it from the start, she said. Her mother volunteered at the pantry, and her granddaughters often help her when they’re off from school.

“They love to come back and help me do the boxes” of food, Coffman said. “Normally, carrying stuff out of here, we can use those strong kids.”

The pantry started out in the basement of a pastor’s home in Barlow, then moved to a larger space on Ohio 550 near the Barlow Fairgrounds. At that time, they had enough space to begin a thrift shop, Coffman said.

“What we sell, then we use that money to buy food to give people that are eligible,” she said.

While there are income restrictions on who can receive food, the thrift store is open to anyone. And with prices that include 50 cents for pants or a shirt and $1 for a coat or dress, it attracts people in need as well as those who are just frugal.

“I’d say the majority just are people who are looking for a bargain,” Coffman said.

The pantry and thrift store are open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and 1 to 4 and 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. Most of the volunteers come from local churches like Coffman and her fellow Tunnel United Methodist members. The level of activity varies. On the day after Christmas it was light, with Coffman and her friends enjoying each other’s company and some good-natured ribbing as she was interviewed.

“Some days we’re extremely busy and we go home so tired we can hardly stand it,” she said

Through Tuesday, the pantry is offering a $2-a-bag sale to help lighten its load of winter items.

“You can get a lot in a bag for $2,” said volunteer Carol Layner, 65, of Pinehurst.

While she has long been a supporter of the pantry and plans to spend more time there once she does retire, Coffman gave a great deal of credit for its success to Allen and her husband, Jonathan, who volunteer to oversee the operations.

Clothing and food can be donated to the pantry during its regular hours. Monetary donations may be sent to the Western Washington County Food Pantry, P.O. Box 151, Barlow, OH 45712.