Response to Pantry on a Post programs brings laughter and tears

The note was written on the back of a cereal box and meant for the creators of the Pantry on a Post program.

“Thank you,” read part of the note, which was stuck in one of the pantries. “Just the knowledge of our community not being overlooked and actually thought of is a blessing.”

That kind of response brings tears, but it also motivates the staff and volunteers at Good Neighbor House to continue their efforts, said Marcia Ehlers, who helped to start the Pantry on a Post program in 2019 and is the agency’s assistant director of human services and outreach.

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The program consists of wood boxes mounted on posts and filled with free non-perishable food and supplies. Nine boxes are installed throughout Montgomery and Greene counties, with plans for more, said Ehlers, 54, of Kettering.

Each box is filled every day, including weekends and holidays. In some locations, the boxes could be filled three times a day and still empty out, she said.

Good Neighbor House, 627 E. First St., also offers a brick-and-mortar food pantry that serves more than 250 families per week who pick up prepackaged boxes of food. But not everyone has the transportation to get there, and others may work when the pantry is open but still need assistance.

“They are really limited in food resources,” she said. “This brings the food to them.”

Pat Mills volunteers at the pantry and by filling the Pantry on a Post boxes. Each box is filled with 30 to 40 items, she said. That includes cereal, canned goods, boxed milk, hygiene products and household items like toilet paper and paper towels.

Mills, of Beavercreek, became a full-time volunteer at the organization when the pandemic began and lauded Ehlers’ ability to organize the effort.

“It’s been a real delight the way she works with the community and serves,” she said.

In addition to the pantry, Good Neighbor House offers dental, medical and optometry assistance as well as counseling and dietary services.

The organization receives many donations, including some from people who were once served by the organization.

“They want to be a part of this whole process,” Ehlers said.

Ehlers was nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem by both Leah Jung and Ann Stevens. Stevens, of Dayton, said Ehlers’ kindness is apparent both in their friendship and in the work she does for Good Neighbor House. Ehlers goes above and beyond to do what’s right while remaining humble.

“Marcia is one of those people who works tirelessly on behalf of the citizens of Montgomery County and never seeks recognition for her work,” Stevens said.

Ehlers moved to Dayton when she was 10, went to college here and began a career in the media, working at the assignment desk for two local television stations. In 2007 she applied for an opening at Good Neighbor House, which her mother helped to found in 1994.

Her mother, Mary Ehlers, was a missionary who instilled her values in Ehlers at a young age.

“I think volunteerism and service was in her blood,” Ehlers said.

Now Ehlers’ job has become an integral part of her own life. Her boss when she was hired told her that she would laugh some days and cry on others. It’s proven true, she said. She is helping someone one minute, and the next they are hugging or praying.

She believes deeply in what she is doing, and the work has become second nature.

“You can’t be in this kind of career and not have it go home with you and have it follow you,” she said.

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