Aug. 4—A highly regarded local charity is seeing a change in leadership, but its track record in running a food bank and other services is not expected to change.
Jacksonville Christian Outreach Center on Monday welcomed Summer Jennings as its director, following a month of transition alongside its previous director, Pat Borstorff.
But it's not as if Jennings didn't already know the ropes.
"I began volunteering in JCOC's pantry in 2017," Jennings said. "My mentor was Pat, and she is still my mentor. I'll never be able to fill her shoes, and I will still call on her for everything."
Borstorff, director for three years, will serve on the charity's board and be available to help Jennings, who says she's looking forward to new opportunities.
Jennings has, at one time or another, assisted with the School Supply Program, the Find Formula project, the Christmas Toyland and the Garden of Eatin'. Her experiences will help her direct the entire program.
Tammy Hall, a Auburn Extension Agent, works with the area's food banks through the SNAP program that fights obesity. She said the way JCOC staff runs the nonprofit is outstanding.
"The state's agents held a training session on how to run food banks, and they were listing the best practices," Hall said, "said as having an online presence, implementing the use of QR codes, marketing themselves, giving out fresh vegetables and hosting seasonal projects. They even take people's food restrictions into consideration when preparing their gifts of food. During the meeting, everything the agents listed, JCOC was already doing. It is on the cutting edge of food bank operations."
Borstorff said the community involvement is the driving force in JCOC's effectiveness and that it has grown throughout the years for the families who live in the 36265 zip code area.
"All I have to do is put out the word on Facebook about a specific need, such as furniture or baby items. Someone calls by the afternoon and helps us fulfill that need," she said.
Jennings has come on board just at the time the JCOC plans to enlarge its headquarters, from 1,600 square feet of space on Francis Street West, beside the Methodist Church, to 2,300 square feet. The cost of the addition — a separate building connected to the main one via a walkway — is being picked up by donations and offers of free labor.
Jennings said helping others fulfills her soul.
"We volunteers are often in tears because there is such a spiritual feeling that we receive from helping others," Jennings said. "At Christmastime, for instance, we can give people a day when they forget about their daily struggles or problems. We allow them to come and choose gifts for their children, and we even give them a Christmas ham and a tree."
Founded 27 years ago this October with 12 affiliate churches, the JCOC has many plans in the future that Jennings will direct.
Partnered with the Northeast Alabama Community Foundation and the United Way, the nonprofit has been able to use that connection to obtain grants for such things as producing a brochure with the help of a Jacksonville State University marketing instructor, Coco Ping. It has paid for the creation of signs that are placed where individuals in need may see them, thanks to the JSU Department of Technology and its Geographic Information Systems mapping.
Jennings, the mother of three teens, said volunteerism has a side benefit that allows her to achieve one of her life goals — teaching her own children the importance of reaching out to others.
"My kids see that their involvement is helping others," she said. "I can see their eyes when they realize that others have a life that is different from theirs. I believe we can all make a difference, even in our small community. We come together to help in so many ways."