The Women of Minnie’s Food Pantry

Lean on Me

What does it take to provide more than eight million meals over the course of 10 years to a community in need? At Minnie’s Food Pantry, a small army of volunteers is led by a mighty executive staff consisting of just four women.

Minnie’s founder Cheryl “Action” Jackson is someone that many in this community lean on in times of need. But who does Cheryl lean on? As she puts it, in the beginning, she was looking for a few good women to do the job. 

“Some people have thought there were 50 to 100 employees working here. They work in excellence, have passion, dignity and integrity. I am so grateful for them,” Cheryl said, referring to her support staff, Erica Simon, Zoya Jackson and Lynette Wellington. “They work hard every day. When donations are down and the holidays are over with, my team is so passionate that they are aware that the need is every day of the year. This is a story of gratitude.”

Lynette Wellington, Cheryl Jackson, Zoya Jackson, Erica Simon // photo Emilee Prado
Lynette Wellington, Cheryl Jackson, Zoya Jackson, Erica Simon // photo Emilee Prado

And witnessing gratitude is something Erica Simon, director of operations, considers a gift of her job. She quit her corporate career and helped Cheryl start the pantry 10 years ago. They volunteered in community outreach together at their church, and Erica was drawn to the passion and energy Cheryl put into her work. Originally, upon hearing Cheryl’s plans for starting the pantry in memory of her mother Minnie, Erica said she just wanted to help Cheryl with her vision. However Erica’s efforts grew into something more. 

“I saw how [Cheryl] gives and how she treated people. But I believe this was something inside of me that was always there that needed to be cultivated. Working here brought that out of me,” Erica said. “After being with her a while I just started feeling more empathy and caring about situations.”

For Zoya Jackson, executive assistant, that sentiment couldn’t be more true — especially after the day she was told the love and support of the pantry stopped a client’s potential suicide. She said seeing people they help and hearing their stories makes her feel like her life has purpose, without receiving anything in return other than a smile. Zoya remembers when her mother needed assistance 20 years ago, and wishes a place like Minnie’s had existed then. 

“I get to work with some phenomenal people. Coming to work is not like coming to work,” she said. “I love seeing how God works through everything. It’s like a family.”

Minnie's Food Pantry // photo Jennifer Shertzer
Minnie’s 2017 Thanksgiving Giveaway // photo Jennifer Shertzer

Since working at the pantry, Lynette Wellington, pantry director and Cheryl’s sister, said she has met at least seven thousand people who have walked in for assistance or volunteered. A household can only receive meals once a month from Minnie’s Food Pantry, but often people come back repeatedly because they just want a hug and to feel good. Because of social media, Lynette believes we just don’t meet our neighbors like we used to, and the pantry gives many that sense of community. She connects with families they serve as well as volunteers. “I get to see the very, very best of humanity on both sides,” Lynette said. 

Minnie’s Food Pantry serves an average of 250 new families each month. On Nov. 17 it will provide more than 10 thousand Thanksgiving meals, which means each needy family will receive a turkey and all the fixings. Cheryl said this way people are able to prepare their own meals at home with their loved ones on Thanksgiving. It is the pantry’s biggest day of the year and families camp out the night before the giveaway to be first in line. On the day of the event, Minnie’s famous red carpet is rolled out, there is dancing and music and plenty of hugs. 

“It must be what heaven feels like on Earth. There is nothing like it — ever. You can’t duplicate it,” Cheryl said. “Hope is here; that is the environment we create. It’s a happy place. And the volunteers as well as those being served are smiling. There is no shame in our game.”

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