News & Updates

“My Father Would Be Blown Away”

The daughter of a volunteer who helped start GraceWorks Food Pantry returns to serve.

It was God who put it in her head, Susan Gatlin Brent decided later.

Thirteen years to the day of her father’s fatal stroke, she sat down and sent an email to the GraceWorks volunteer relations manager that read, “I think it’s time for me to come back.”

It was a decision she wasn’t sure she could make. Her father was John Gatlin. His name hangs on a plaque to the entrance of GraceWorks Food Pantry because it is named after him. John was an American Airlines captain, and a longtime, long-honored GraceWorks volunteer.

After his death in 2007, Susan just could not make herself go through the GraceWorks door. Having worked with her father with the GraceWorks food pantry for more than a decade, it was too hard for Susan to come back to the place she and others associated so closely with him.

From talking with a few who served with from the beginning, it appears that John came eager to help. After having heard about the agency, John stopped by its location in the basement of the old Franklin High School. He said he was retiring in two months and wanted to volunteer. He was told GraceWorks needed help with a clothes closet and a food pantry.

He said, “Well, I don’t do clothes!”

But, boy, could he do food.

And he pulled his daughter Susan, an adult by then, in with him. John was discouraged at the lack of food in the GraceWorks pantry when he first started, Susan said. And he worried about the lack of protein. GraceWorks had no refrigerated space back then.

“He said, ‘Most people are giving stewed tomatoes, cans of peas. We need meat. We need peanut butter,’” she said.

The mention of peanut butter was like the old-time cartoon light bulb over his head. Peanut butter – children – schools! John contacted Poplar Grove School and asked the students to collect peanut butter for GraceWorks to give to other kids who needed food.

“We filled up his truck with peanut butter, and after that he started lining up the other schools to do the same thing,” Susan said.

Whenever the food pantry was low on items. John would call schools and grocery stores and enlisted Susan to call neighbors and friends.

All these memories are resurfacing now that Susan has returned to GraceWorks. She is training to be a GraceWorker, which is a volunteer who interviews our neighbors seeking help. Under staff guidance, GraceWorkers have one-on-one interviews and figure out how best GraceWorks can provide for their needs.

“I love it,” she said. “I had been with the pantry so long. I wanted to be more a part of the program. I wanted to see what it looked like from the need up. It’s very eye-opening. It’s humbling, and it’s extra sad.”

She is astounded at the changes in the 13 years she had not been able to return to GraceWorks – more programs, more staff, more volunteers, more space, and most of all, more food.

“My father would be blown away. We have USDA now, we have refrigerators and a freezer! It’s so dreamy to be able to help people with meat and salad. Back then, it was a day-to-day thing. You were just trying to get through the day to get people food,” she said.

Her heart still beats for the food pantry.

“We can do all kinds of things here, but if you can’t get food, where are you? It’s critical.”

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