By Christina Amano Dolan Editor
For more than 45 years, Mechanicsville Churches Emergency Functions (MCEF) has uplifted the Hanover County community in powerful ways. After closing for a short time during the COVID-19 pandemic, MCEF’s one-stop shop is up and running with an abundance of pantry items and clothing to support local families in need.
With a strong network of community churches, individuals and businesses that come together to help neighbors most in need, MCEF offers a range of influential services including a clothing and food store, a transportation service for seniors, a school supply store for teachers and more.
MCEF was established in 1976 by three local churches with a mission to help residents in financial difficulty. Today, the group is made up of approximately 34 churches as well as businesses and individuals who combine their resources to help struggling community members get back on their feet.
MCEF’s goal is to help families manage financial emergencies, improve their quality of life, maintain their independence, prevent homelessness, and promote health and well-being. Local churches house and support MCEF’s eight different missions: Food Pantry, Elderly Walks Program, Financial Aid, Linen Closet, Infant and Newborn Closet, Children’s Closet, Adult Closet, and Teen Closet .
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The MCEF One Stop Shop, located at 7235 Stonewall Parkway, Mechanicsville, welcomes each of the eight church missions, providing free clothing, linens, food and other helpful resources to those in need.
According to MCEF President Pat Hubert, the group now has about 165 volunteers who help run its missions. MCEF is run by a 100% volunteer force, with all supplies funded by donations from church and community members.
“We never went to the government for anything,” Hubert said. “All we do is spread the word to churches and the community when we are short of anything, and they arrive. It’s a wonderful community.
The one-stop shop opened on October 1, 2017, after all MCEF churches agreed to cover the store’s overhead costs and a location was secured. The store was intended to provide a larger, centralized space to support each of the churches’ missions.
The shop is open to customers from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. It is also open from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
“It’s organized like a full grocery store,” Hubert said. “So they buy and bag what they actually use.”
Customers are guided by arrows through each of the aisles of the fully stocked pantry to grab the allowed number of canned vegetables, canned meat, condiments, baking supplies, toiletries, dish soap , laundry detergent and more to fill their grocery bags. Customers also receive a carton of fresh eggs from the store’s refrigerator.
While the store mainly offers canned and dried foods, fresh fruits and vegetables are donated by churches from their own gardens, local businesses and residents who have an abundance of their own produce. In addition, Hannover’s master gardeners donate fresh fruit at the end of the season to the MCEF.
Hubert said the store’s spacious layout makes it easier to shop and can accommodate a lot more inventory than the pantry’s previous location, which was in a 15-by-30-foot building.
“We didn’t have room for restocking or anything, so sometimes the bags came out pretty light,” Hubert said. “Here they come out extremely full because we have everything and have the ability to restock immediately.”
The boutique location can also accommodate a fully stocked linen closet, baby and newborn closet, children’s closet, adult closet, and teen closet, as well as the offices of the MCEF. New socks and underwear are also offered for all age groups.
“Everything is given to us, so they can choose what they can use,” Hubert said. “And whatever we miss, we just pick up the phone and get the word out to the churches, and it comes.”
Additionally, the shop has a kitchen, which Hubert and two other volunteers use to incorporate pantry items and fresh produce into easy, healthy, and innovative recipes for customers.
“So I’m pulling food off the shelves there and creating whole new recipes, and [clients] taste them,” Hubert said. “If they like it, we give them a copy of the recipe.”
They even provide a cookbook with a list of the first 16 recipes created by the trio, including recipes for vegetable casserole, pumpkin and corn muffins, healthy apple and cinnamon sweet potato fritters. , Mexican Cauliflower Rice and more.
Hubert said there are currently 64 volunteers who operate the store on weekdays, as well as a separate team of volunteers who help with donations on Donation Sunday.
The store serves about 100 families a month, but they were helping about 50 families a week before COVID-19. Due to this shortage of customers, Hubert said they have an abundance of pantry items on the shelves.
In 2019, 424 households visited the store, while 527 households visited it in 2020. In 2021, the one-stop shop served 233 households, or 1,415 people, with 1,937 bags of food, 795 bags of clothes and 121 laundry bags.
Hubert said there are many reasons why the pandemic has reduced the number of families looking for pantry items, such as the federal government supporting free school lunches and increasing the amount of food vouchers. food available. More churches have also started distributing free food during the pandemic.
With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, Hubert said they are seeing an upward trend in the number of new families seeking food, clothing and financial assistance.
In addition, MCEF has expanded its services to further target children in need in the community, including providing support for the Mechanicsville Weekend Backpack program. The program provides needy children in the school district with backpacks full of food. Hubert said MCEF donated nearly 4,000 pounds of food to the program.
MCEF also recently partnered with Hanover County Public Schools to develop the Tools 4 Teachers store, which aims to provide support for teachers by donating school supplies to schoolchildren in need.
“Each year, teachers spend thousands of dollars out of pocket because the children don’t have what they need,” said Glady, Hubert’s wife.
Support for the program comes from community partnerships and donations, which volunteers use to purchase a generous inventory of school supplies. Program inventory is currently stored in the inventory space of the Youth Services office, although donations are accepted at the one-stop shop.
Currently, middle school teachers at Bell Creek, Chickahominy, Liberty, and Oak Knoll Middle Schools can submit requests for needed school supplies twice a month. While the new program is currently limited to area colleges, they hope to expand their services to other county schools in the future.
Since fall 2021, program partners have contributed $2,500 in financial support. Volunteers made 16 school deliveries, supporting 127 classrooms and responding to 211 teacher requests with over 1,900 items.
Hubert said the Tools 4 Teachers store dedication ceremony will likely take place at the end of the month.
Another of MCEF’s main programs provides direct financial assistance to families struggling to pay for electricity, water, rent, oil, prescriptions and other essential expenses. In 2021 alone, the program provided 120 families with direct financial assistance of $58,172.
Additionally, MCEF has partnered with Ashland Christian Emergency Services (ACES) to create the Hanover Senior Ride program.
The program provides transportation to medical appointments, groceries, the bank and other locations for seniors age 60 and older who cannot drive themselves. The program also helps passengers with disabilities, but the drivers are not equipped to accommodate wheelchairs.
Glady Hubert is one of approximately 25 volunteer drivers based in both Ashland and Mechanicsville. This is a volunteer-based transportation service that relies on drivers to use their personal vehicles to transport passengers, with all drivers qualified through background checks and safety training drivers. The MCEF also offers its runners civil liability insurance.
“Sometimes we stay with them, sometimes we shop or do something while they’re on their appointments,” she says. “But then we bring the person home.”
Seniors requiring a ride can call the MCEF Ride Coordinator with details of their need, preferably a week in advance. The coordinator will plan the trip with a designated driver and call the passenger back.
In 2021, the Hanover Senior Rides program provided 1,116 rides to residents in need.
Those interested in participating in the Senior Rides program as a rider, driver or coordinator can call 804-357-9360 for more information.
People interested in supporting Tools 4 Teachers can contact the Hannover Community Resources Department at 804-365-4300 or email Kristina Yager with Youth Services at [email protected]
Those wishing to make a monetary donation to MCEF for any of their services can visit the website, www.4mcef.com, and select the donate button. Supplies donated for the One Stop Shop or Tools 4 Teachers program can be dropped off at the One Stop Shop on the first and third Sundays of the month from 2-3:30 p.m.
Those interested in volunteering for one of MCEF’s eight missions can print out a volunteer application from the group’s website and mail it to MCEF PO Box 604, Mechanicsville, VA 23111.