Eelin Golan knows that being a part of a community is not about where one was born, but more of where one chooses to engage, work and impact lives. Golan’s roots are in Singapore, but her working heart is firmly planted in the Zachary Food Pantry where she has recently been made an executive co-director.

Golan and her family moved to Zachary in the summer of 2016 when her husband accepted a job at Exxon. “I’ve always wanted to volunteer, and in Singapore, I volunteered with nonprofit organizations as well,” she said. “So, when I came here, after I got my family settled into a new routine, I was looking for places I could go and contribute my extra time.”

She followed the lead of Exxon retirees who were spending their time and resources at the food pantry in Zachary. She started in October 2017 and quickly became a regular. A few weeks ago, the board that governs the food pantry appointed her to join Reggie Dykes as an executive co-director. “I had always wanted to volunteer and serve my community,” Golan said. “Over the last few years, a seed was planted in me to understand and serve the underprivileged.”

The Golan family has lived outside the United States and in other states but grasping the perspective of the underprivileged is not an automatic concept. “I have not led the life of someone who does not know where his or her next meal will come from, and I do not know their lives and struggles,” she said. “Here, the pantry provides food to our neighbors who need help, and I get to meet them and have the opportunity to learn from them.”

The team approach is at work in the running of the food pantry. Dykes and Golan are volunteer co-directors, and Roma Prejean, the longest active volunteer to date, leads the weekly organization and coordination of supplies and food coming in and out of the facility’s store room. “We are 100% volunteer,” Golan said. “Roma runs the show back there, and that’s where everything happens.”

“I thank God for this opportunity to serve with all our family of volunteers that includes more than 50 active volunteers serving at the pantry every month,” Golan said. “Each of us puts in an average of just under 10 hours a month.”

Dykes provides a strong connection and track record in the community because he has lived in the Zachary area since the 1950s. He started volunteering after he retired in 2012. He was friends with the director and after his friend left the organization, he became the executive director. He is well-versed in the history of the organization and explained that was  it was established in July 1988 as the Zachary Community Food Pantry.

In 2012, the Zachary Men's Club donated the property where the building sits, and the city received grant funding and added city funds to build the new larger facility. Dykes explained the food pantry moved into building in 2013, incorporated later that year and filed for tax-exempt status.

Areas of support include donation sites around Zachary and the school system’s Pack the Pantry campaign that brought in 10,580 pounds of food in November, Dykes said.

Volunteers are crucial to the process because they stock the shelves of food that comes weekly in from the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. “The Zachary Food Pantry is one of more than 100 agencies serviced by the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank,” Dykes said.

Golan added that the stream of support is diverse. Volunteers donate time and expertise, but members of the community donate food, as well as money from company payroll deductions and promotions run by local businesses.

High school support

A tradition of support is in its eighth year at Zachary High School. The eighth annual Empty Bowls dinner will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Zachary High cafeteria. In addition to the proceeds from the dinner, funds will be raised through a silent auction. Live music will be provided by the Zachary High jazz band and other musicians.

Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger, personalized by artists and art organizations on a community level. The promotion and growth of the project is managed by The Imagine/RENDER Group, a nonprofit organization. Each community's events are self-developed and independent.

“It’s something that I did in college, and when I became Teacher of the Year, it was something that I wanted to see started,” Zachary High art instructor Chloe McCleary said.

The Empty Bowl fundraiser is a banquet. Art students create unique bowls as small works of art. For $10, participants get to choose a bowl to take home and get a simple, donated meal of pastalaya, bread and tea. 

Proceeds from efforts like Empty Bowls and Pack the Pantry are crucial to food pantry’s impact on the community. The food pantry fed close to 300 families after the 2016 flood and now averages 250 families a month being served. Golan said that last month, 219 families in Zachary received 28,609 pounds of food, and agency statistics converts that impact to $223 in groceries per family.

For information on receiving aid, volunteering or making a donation, visit the Zachary Food Bank Facebook page, facebook.com/Zachary-Food-Pantry-Inc-553584068166206/. Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 932, Zachary, LA 70791.