In 1996, Cheryl “Action” Jackson was a reporter for a Plano newspaper when Oprah Winfrey stopped in town during a nationwide tour. When the talk show queen asked if anyone had a question, Cheryl’s hand shot up. “What do you want?” Oprah asked. Without hesitation, Cheryl replied: “I want to do a story on you.”
Years after that meeting, their paths crossed again. Again, Oprah asked Cheryl, “What do you want?” Her reply: “Over 17 million people follow you on Twitter, and you only follow 75 people. I want to be number 76.” A while later Cheryl’s phone buzzed, notifying her that she had a new Twitter follower. And yes, it was Oprah.
How did a girl from Allen, Texas, go from a one-time reliance on food stamps to running Minnie’s Food Pantry, one of the largest facilities in Collin County that counts thousands of local supporters as well as celebrities like Oprah and Rihanna as its champions? When you want something, says Cheryl, “You just have to ask.”
One of the first questions Cheryl asked was how to honor her dad’s memory after he died at age 58. “There was a point where my husband and I had difficulty feeding our own kids, and I went to apply for food stamps. It was a horrific experience,” she says. “After my dad died, God reminded me how I felt when I needed food. He told me to treat people the way I would want to be treated.”
In 2008, Minnie’s Food Pantry was born. If Cheryl’s hero was her dad, then her “she-ro” was her mom, Minnie Ewing. “My prayer was that the world would know my mother’s name, so they would know how much she meant to me.” Minnie, who passed away in May of this year, was the company’s namesake, her daughter’s inspiration and the face of hope to all who met her.
For seven years, Minnie made every visitor feel as welcome as if they were in her own home, and her presence would turn a two-hour line into a five-hour line — and people were happy to wait. “She prayed with people if they wanted prayer. She was such a loving and giving person,” says Cheryl. In fact, Minnie and Cheryl had so much love for each other that it couldn’t help but spill over to everyone else.
After walking a red carpet, guests at Minnie’s Food Pantry are greeted by volunteers who provide them with top-quality food for their family. Everyone is treated with love, dignity and respect. It’s important to note that most visitors to Minnie’s are the working poor — people who are going to their jobs every day but still not earning enough to make ends meet.
“We’re lifting people out of poverty not just because of what we’re giving them, but because of how we serve them, says Cheryl. “Poverty sometimes starts in the mind. If you can get them in the mindset that this is just a moment in your life and things are gonna change — it changes.”
Her mother’s loss in May brought new questions. Once again, Cheryl found herself asking, “How will I honor my mom?” As it turns out, Minnie gave her daughter the answer in the last conversation they had before she died. Cheryl was telling her mom about plans to open up a second food pantry in Dallas — in the house where Minnie was born. “I would be so honored,” said Minnie. “What a legacy.”
For Cheryl, her grief is still palpable. Every day brings fresh memories of the lady she adored and called her best friend. There’s also the very real face of hunger — in children, in young men and women and in grandparents — it is plain and raw and aching in its need to be fed, and it is for these people that she will find the strength to carry on.
Want to help? Go to http://minniesfoodpantry.org/donate/ and be a part of the family.
Minnie's Food Pantry Website >