The Spirit of Giving: Couple grows ministry for food pantry and more in Westfield

Christina and Donnie Stilts recently moved their ministry A Giving Tree into a larger location. (Photo by Feel Good Now)

By Anna Skinner

For nearly seven years, Christina and Don Stilts have taken it upon themselves to help feed and support those in the Westfield community that need a bit more help than others. Just since last November, the couple expanded their opportunities of service by moving their ministry to a facility at 17388 Westfield Park Rd. nearly double the square footage of what they’d previously been using.

The Stilts work to provide more than just a pantry to those in need though, offering faith, literacy, job opportunities, counseling and more to individuals and families around the county. They don’t let anything go to waste, as Student Impact – a group that supports and mentors students – travels through the school district collecting food that wasn’t used to be redistributed throughout the community.

“We have so many success stories,” Christina said. “We are so much more than just a food pantry.”

“We go deeper instead of wider,” Don added. “We are not looking to serve as many people as we can, we want to go as deep as possible with those individuals in what other ways we can help them.”

A painting inside A Giving Tree depicts the ministry’s outreaches. Christina and Donnie Stilts pause next to the painting.
(Photo by Feel Good Now)

PROVIDING FOOD

In addition to the onsite pantry that includes nonperishables, refrigerated and frozen meat and personal hygiene products, A Giving Tree also has a mobile pantry May through June that brings food and hygiene products to a different place in the community every Saturday, Typically, the mobile pantry is similar to a normal pantry for those in need to visit. However, for certain individuals through the nonprofit’s Seniors and Singles program, deliveries can be made to their home. Home deliveries are made on Fridays, after Student Impact sorts the Food Rescue items to be redistributed.

A Giving Tree’s other food-related programs include providing nutritious sack lunches to children during the summer months when free-and-reduced lunches aren’t available and hosting Hot Dogs for Hunger, a program where those in need can attend and eat a meal for free.

EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT

Another aspect the Stilts implement into their nonprofit is helping individuals in need get out of the poverty cycle, and reintroducing them to education and employment. They sit down and interview individuals to discover which skillsets they possess.

“I spend a lot of time talking to business owners throughout the community to match a guest up with an opportunity,” Don said.

After finding a job, A Giving Tree provides financial planning courses to help the individual save money.

K IS FOR KIDS

Every fall, A Giving Tree fills backpacks with the school district’s required items for grades K-8. This past August, the program donated 907 backpacks.

A Giving Tree also works with the guidance counselors at the intermediate and middle schools to provide food for kids on the free-and-reduced lunch program to take home to eat at night or on the weekends.

New this year, the nonprofit is launching a mobile library to promote children’s literacy that will travel with the mobile food pantry each week. Barnes and Noble of Westfield donated 784 new children’s books to launch the program.

ARTS AND CRAFTS

Another new program includes Arts and Crafts, where the Stilts hope to close the generation gap and bring youth groups in to spend time with seniors living in nursing homes.

“These are things that give us opportunities to meet those individuals, develop relationships to the point of finding other ways of helping them other than just giving them a bag of groceries,” Don said.

For more, visit agivingtree.info.

25 to Thrive

For 2017, the Stilts are encouraging everyone to sign up for the 25 to Thrive program, pledging to donate $25 each month of the year to aid the nonprofit in its efforts. Through Gleaners Food Bank, A Giving Tree can purchase 300 pounds of assorted meat for just $25.

“Twenty-five dollars helps us feed a family for the month,” Don said.

As the ministry is the Stilts’ full time job, donations help them continue to serve those in need and provide nutritious meals.

“What sets us apart from other food pantries I would say wholeheartedly, it has to be we serve the whole person and cultivate those lasting relationships,” Christina said.

For more, visit 25tothrive.org.