by Amanda Beam | About Amanda | Twitter
Chairs line the hallway of Charlestown’s North Clark Outreach Center. Women and men of all ages sit and wait for this food pantry to begin serving. It’s a Wednesday at the end of the month, a time when social security checks and other pensions have been spent on items necessary for living. Medicine. Rent. Electric.
When faced with these choices, buying food can be an afterthought.
The ladies in the waiting area don’t look hungry, but how does hunger look? You don’t wear it on your face, or hear it in your voice. With food insecurity, you feel it in your bones and in your brain. And that invisibility is part of the problem. A neighbor or a friend could barely be making it, and most of us wouldn’t know it.
Ruthie Jackson comes face-to-face with hunger on a weekly basis. As director of the North Clark Outreach Center, she and other volunteers distribute sustenance to roughly 15 Charlestown families a week. Their clients leave with shopping carts full of healthy goodness. With the help of Dare to Care, local churches and individual donations, the 100 percent volunteer-based social service organization provides produce, dairy, meat and basic staples at no cost to the consumer.
On this day, the center even offered donated tomato plants to those seeking a bit of relief.
“People don’t get that there’s a need right here in our community,” said Ruthie later that morning after all the chairs had emptied. “It’s all over. There are people that live in big houses whose kids are going to bed hungry. There’s a need in every town. And people sometimes just don’t like to see that.”
For Ruthie, this need remains personal. At the age of 10, Ruthie lost her father. Her mother, who before had stayed at home to care for her four children, suddenly entered the workforce. Times could get tough, Ruthie said, in making ends meet.
“So that’s kind of where my heart is. Not to say that we starved, but I know what it’s like to wonder how we’re going to eat again,” she said. “That’s who I am. I don’t want to forget that.”
And, judging from her interactions with those in need, she hasn’t.
When she meets each client and gets their signature for the center’s records, the woman with the silver hair and electric smile offers them more than just nourishment. Ruthie delivers hope.
It’s a funny thing that those who do the most good in our communities like Ruthie don’t want any recognition for it. They’d rather work in the background, unseen, like powerful winds pushing a sail.
But Ruthie is more than just a force of nature. A coming storm better describes her presence.
“The Lord just gave me a big mouth, and I’m not afraid to ask people to help,” she said. “You put a plea out, and somehow the Lord always provides. He never lets us down.”
When a problem brews, the lifelong Charlestown resident wants to fix it. Helping others, she said, is her reason for being here. You see this when she speaks to those picking up food from the pantry. Her voice booms as she greets them and asks about their lives. She checks to make sure they have enough to pay their essential bills, and questions if their kids and grandchildren are set for school clothes.
Above all else, no matter what, no one goes away hungry.
At the end of their time together, Ruthie almost always tells them she loves them. And it’s no lie. She does. Each and every one.
“I just want everybody to feel like somebody cares. In this place, hopefully when they come here, they know there’s no judgment,” she said. “We have to take care of each other and love each other, and I feel like they know that when they come in here that’s happening.”
That caring extends outside the outreach center’s walls. Initiatives such as a back-to-school supply drive and an annual “Elf Tree” campaign to ensure local kids have a good Christmas have also originated from Ruthie and the volunteers.
Yet the work continues. Donations of food items are never turned away, nor are volunteers. In fact, oftentimes, folks the center has helped return to offer assistance to those struggling.
That’s why Ruthie doesn’t feel she’s different than anyone else.
“I’m just doing my part,” she said. “If everybody just did a little part, imagine how much better it would be.”
Located at 240 Harrison St. in Charlestown, North Clark Outreach Center is open 10 am to noon on Wednesdays and between 5:30- 7:30 pm the first and third Tuesday of the month. No appointment is necessary. Donations may also be dropped off at the Charlestown Trustees office or by appointment. Click here to view the North Clark Outreach Center Facebook Page.
Amanda Beam is an award-winning local Freelance Journalist and Contributing Columnist. Her work has been featured in the Courier Journal, News and Tribune, LEO Weekly, and other publications. She is a Hoosier, a mother, community advocate.