“I was hungry and you gave me to eat” Matt, 25:35
Ed LaNeve remembers back in February 1972 when the seed was planted for local volunteers to start an interdenominational, all volunteer Christian agency to provide emergency help for those in need in Northern Hancock County. LaNeve, who was religious education director at Sacred Heart Church in Chester, had learned about such an organization operating in East Liverpool and he invited Father Fata of St. Al’s Church in East Liverpool to tell those gathered at Sacred Heart about the opportunity to help others. The organization was called FISH and a group of 80 gathered to learn about how volunteers were living out their Christian values though volunteer efforts. When the evening was over, LaNeve, recalled one-half of those in attendance volunteered their services and the Chester-Newell Fish was born.
LaNeve who still serves as President and his wife have continued to serve in the volunteer group throughout half a century. He lauds other faithful volunteers who have continued to distribute food and keep the food pantry stocked. Jean Chaney serves as the organization’s treasurer and shops for the food acquired by donation. Bob and Cathy Glass have been faithful volunteers and LaNeve recalls that continuing to operate through those years has been no small task.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the FISH organization “no salaries, no expense accounts” and the group has not only survived, but met the challenges created by a faltering economy. LaNeve’s dedication to both the service and the mission of FISH are enduring.
In the beginning many charitable services were provided to those in need by FISH including food baskets, transportation to medical appointments, financial assistance with utility bills and rent assistance. When it became obvious that funding constraints would not permit the financial assistance as more needy families turned to FISH for help, the group fell back to their first intentions, providing emergency food baskets.
FISH had been receiving over 100 calls per month and almost doubling in winter months as utility bills place greater demands on financial resources of the needy. LaNeve said no questions or financial proof is required if people ask for help. He said that when COVID struck the amount of assistance from the government increased for those who visited the FISH pantry and the amount of visitors decreased.
The FISH program originated many years ago in England by members of the Anglican Church who wanted to feed the hungry. Soon after, the program crossed the Atlantic into the New England area. In 1960 Father Fata of St. Al’s in East Liverpool began a local organization,
All programs are autonomous. Some have assigned words to the individual letters (Friends In Sending Help), but LaNeve said the name was chosen because of the use of the sketch of a fish as an early secret symbol for Christians to identify themselves during times of persecution in the first three centuries.
Although the pantry once operated five days a week with the food being delivered to homes, increased numbers of request made this arrangement impossible to maintain. The pantry which began at Sacred Heart in Chester has moved throughout the years to the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wells School in Newell, the old National Church building on Main Street and is now back at Sacred Heart. The pantry is now open 10 a.m., Saturday mornings to distribute food parcels. Clients are asked to call in during the week to pre-register so that the number of food baskets can be anticipated. The answering service can be reached at 330-385-0445.
After 50 years of service LaNeve still believes as strongly as he did in 1972 in the mission of FISH. He appreciates the support shown by the communities throughout the years and puts a call out for younger volunteers to make sure the mission continues. He suggested that anyone wishing to make a financial donation contact Jean Chaney at Chaney’s Pit Stop in Chester.