DLM Food and Resources at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron, Ohio, is a place where families find nourishing food, warm clothes and an equally warm welcome.
“At first glance, it’s not much different from any well-run, client-choice food pantry,” said Marla Wood Kay, a deacon and director of congregational ministries at Holy Trinity.
But, Wood Kay said, “the idea for this ministry was born in a hospice room,” where Holy Trinity member Debra Manteghi was dying of cancer.
For years, Manteghi had advocated for families. She developed Project RISE (Realizing Individual Strength through Education), a federally funded program connecting Akron Public Schools, shelters and community organizations to support students who are homeless.
After her death, need and opportunity converged. “I had a desire to continue Debra’s ministry,” Wood Kay said. “Project RISE needed a food pantry to direct their families to.”
In June 2017, Holy Trinity approved the food pantry ministry. Donations in Manteghi’s honor and a church endowment supported it for a planned fall opening.
When it was time to name the new ministry, Manteghi’s son Amir and his fiancee, Monica Band, named it “DLM,” which stands for “Dare to Love More” and also “Debra Lynn Manteghi.”
Since opening to guests on Oct. 14, 2017, DLM has grown, serving 75 families—300 people—on average per month. Wood Kay said DLM picks up 1,500 to 3,500 pounds of food three times per month and is a member of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, which provides food and other essential items to area hunger ministries.
Project RISE refers families to DLM, and continued growth has been both a blessing and a challenge. “Last year [Project Rise] served 1,800 families who are experiencing homelessness in some form,” Wood Kay said. Nearly half of those served are 17 or younger.
Rachel Breece, Project RISE special programs coordinator, describes DLM as “invaluable” to the families who learn about it during intake. “Our clients feel seen, heard and loved,” she said. “The ability to take one more thing off their plate is priceless.”
Donele Hilton, DLM’s planning team chair and a Providence Baptist Church member who is involved with other homeless ministries, agrees: “Clients are shown care and respect, and I love to see their smiles.”
“Our clients feel seen, heard and loved. The ability to take one more thing off their plate is priceless.”
While their parents shop, children read books and play games that were collected from Holy Trinity. Plans are underway to expand offerings beyond food, including more adult and children’s clothing, school uniforms and drop-in counseling.
“These are some of the most vulnerable families in Akron,” Wood Kay said. “It’s been a blessing to reach out to people. They also come with spiritual gifts that feed me.”
Courage to serve
From the beginning, volunteers came from across Akron to help with DLM—from Holy Trinity’s congregation, other faith-based ministries and those who shared a desire to serve.
Children also can come with their parents to help serve at the ministry. Amanda Mormino, a member of Holy Trinity who volunteered with her daughters, said, “The connections we made that day left us humbled and thankful for the vital ways our church reaches out to those in need in our community.”
Volunteers, along with an ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant, help DLM thrive.
Holy Trinity was encouraged to apply for the grant by its synod’s ELCA World Hunger leader. The congregation received $2,000, which helps provide new opportunities to increase refrigeration capabilities and purchase extra food.
“ELCA World Hunger prioritizes ministries that are holistic and integrated, that is, done in relationship with others, wherein each partner brings their assets together to address the whole picture of hunger,” said Ryan Cumming, ELCA program director for hunger education.
The grant gave intangible gifts too. “[It] helped me be a little more courageous,” Wood Kay said. “We could do this.”
Her courage was further bolstered when she attended an Ohio workshop for hunger leaders. “It’s easy to wimp out,” she said. “Being around other like-minded people helps you to be bold.”
DLM is a living memorial to Manteghi’s love for community. Wood Kay said this “sense of community” is Manteghi’s essence: “That’s what Debra was about—bringing people together.”
Wood Kay also knows there are more people like Manteghi and seeds of new ministries waiting to grow. “That is the work of the Holy Spirit, weaving many different people together around the common vision that Christ gives,” she said.