It requires work and dedication to fulfill a food pantry’s mission even in ordinary times.
But these are no ordinary times.
Tammy Tucker, 53, is president of the board of directors for the Hilliard Food Pantry. Since March, she also has served in the role of food pantry manager, performing double-duty to ensure the pantry is able to serve families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tammy’s leadership in the early days of the public-health crisis was critical to our ability to efficiently adapt and scale our process to meet demand, all while prioritizing the health and safety or our community and volunteers,” said Katy Trombitas, a volunteer board member of the Hilliard Food Pantry.
Tucker became president of the board of directors, a volunteer position, in December 2016, less than a year after becoming a volunteer board member. In 2019, she guided the pantry in its relocation to Life Community Church, 4400 Cemetery Road. The site is more than twice the size of its former home in a portion of the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center in Old Hilliard.
As board president, Tucker oversees the fundraising efforts of the food pantry.
But when former pantry manager Matt Austin stepped out of the role March 1 with no clear successor in place, Tucker filled in at a critical time as the pandemic began to come into focus.
The role is familiar to Tucker, who has about 20 years of experience in food-pantry operations.
That experience began in 2000, when she and her husband, Rob, as members of Hilliard’s Scioto Ridge United Methodist Church, first began supporting a feeding program for the United Methodist Church for All People on Parsons Avenue in Columbus.
“At first, I was asked to make casseroles to take to the church, but then I was asked to go there and help serve,” said Tucker, who doled out meals with her husband and their son and daughter, who were just beginning grade school at the time.
“It was a game-changer,” she said.
Witnessing firsthand evidence of hunger’s prevalence—an experience she didn’t have growing up in Fairmont, West Virginia, or in her later homes in the Akron and Hilliard areas—was eye-opening, she said.
“I didn’t see it until then; I didn’t know what it meant,” said Tucker, who continued to support food programs through the family’s church, eventually expanding her service to include the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
About eight years ago, Tucker responded to a post for a temporary job at the food bank; today, she is a critical part of its mission.
Even while serving as pantry manager and board president at the Hilliard Food Pantry, Tucker acts as the agency relations manager for Franklin County agencies of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
The job entails ensuring food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters are in compliance with state and federal rules and regulations, including those of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Tucker oversees about 200 agencies in Franklin County, with the exception of Hilliard.
Even with that responsibility at hand, Tucker said she knew Hilliard’s food pantry could not achieve its goals without a manager in place.
“When COVID-19 happened, I stepped in as pantry manager because I thought we might (otherwise) have to close,” she said.
The pantry served 25,000 meals in April, up from 17,000 in January.
“Over the last few years, Tammy’s tireless work on behalf of the Hilliard Food Pantry not only strengthened a program that is priceless to our community, but also positioned the pantry to pivot quickly when the pandemic hit and food insecurity skyrocketed,” Trombitas said.
Hilary Sloat, principal of Hilliard Horizon Elementary School, supports the food pantry. “Tammy is an amazing leader who has stepped up to lead the pantry in this crisis,” she said.
“Her passion for helping others and compassion with volunteers are evident in everything she does. It is an honor and a privilege to work with her to help others.”