In 2016, Rich Banichar was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Award. As a member of the United Steelworkers: Local 3057, he was nominated, “for his relentless efforts to keep Shelby FISH food pantry in Ohio full for those who need it.” The USW.org site went on to say, “Rich doesn’t just donate time and money to the FISH food pantry – he donates his heart and soul.”
The Jefferson Awards are given to, “ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition.” How did a small-town guy rise to this level of appreciation?
“The steelworkers union was a great vehicle for me to be involved with because it had access to people and money. I was able to do fundraising at the plants,” Rich explained. “We had six hundred people working there.” They would raise money with buckets at doors at the steel plant where during shift changes, workers could simply drop in money.
“It all really started from a tragic event. A good friend of mine, Clarence Jacocks, had been laid off and was working in a drive-through over in Mansfield where they sell alcohol, pop, and chips. Some young thief stopped in, held him up at gunpoint, robbed the place, and then shot him twice in the chest and killed him.”
“Just a complete waste. He was a wonderful person and I had worked with him and had a lot of good times with him and felt close to him. I was in Cornell’s and picked up the newspaper and [it was in there]. My jaw dropped and it was just like somebody took a baseball bat to my heart. And so I did my very first fundraiser for his family. I would have liked to have raised more money, but it got what we got, but a sparked a fire in me. I was able to meet his wife and his children and present them with the money. Even though it was hard, it was rewarding at the same time.”
“From that, I got to be an officer in the union and that’s when I started doing food drives and drives for kids for Christmas. We would go up to Cornell’s and stand in front and advertise it. We would get six, or seven truckloads full of food. Then if someone at the shop was sick, came down with cancer, or someone in the family had cancer, we would do the bucket drives, do golf outings.”
“I got the mail one day and there’s this thing from the steelworkers. I wasn’t even going to open it up. I just thought it was for a credit card or something. It said you have been chosen to receive the Jefferson Award for the state of Ohio from the steelworkers for everything you’ve done, and I was just blown back by it. Garland and Patty Gates had nominated me for it. Garland had been mayor at one time in Shelby.
“They had heard of this thing that the steelworkers got involved with. Thirteen of us were chosen from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. I was just blown away that I had received this and we went to the big union place in Pennsylvania headquarters, and we had lobster and beef tips, and I had a gold medal placed around my neck, along with the other people. I got to bring my mom, wife, and my daughter. I’ll probably never have an event like that again in my life.”
“I got to the point where I thought about what I was doing. I thought the Lord’s placing things in front of me. And if I do them and I do them well, he’s going to place some more stuff in front of me. That’s what’s happened to my life.”
“I’m now getting ready to go visit food banks and talk to them about working with the Amish and the Mennonites and keeping their produce in this area to go to different food pantries instead of Cleveland and Columbus. When I’ve been able to gain access with some people in the Ohio Food Bank Association is where I will represent the Mennonites and Amish and barter for a price like we will give you $3.25 a dozen for a dozen ears of corn, and we’ll buy two or three hundred dozen. What I have to work out now is how it’s going to stay in this area. Everybody has storage problems. So I’m going to talk to them about what can we do about this. The state has allocated 30 million to the food banks.”
Rich works with the Matthew 25 Outreach Center whose services include produce distribution and a food box program for seniors. He also works with the Society of St. Andrews which is a “nationwide based, volunteer-driven Gleaning Network, where in Mansfield, Ohio, Sue, Alyson, and Barb are “tireless workers who have become wonderful friends.”
Mennonite egg farmer, John Burkholder, his sons, and a homeless shelter worker after making an egg delivery. John has contributed 5000 dozen eggs to local food pantries and homeless shelters. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Banichar.
“My neighbor worked with the Mennonites, and he said, Rich, there’s a guy who raises chickens and he’s an egg farmer and until the chickens’ eggs get to be a uniform size for his buyers, he says he’s just going to throw them in a field unless somebody will take them. Will you take them? Well, I talked to him, and I thought maybe 500 dozen altogether. It ended up being two thousand dozen eggs he gave me. I supplied the cartons and the labor of putting the eggs into cartons, picking them up at his place, and then putting them in my car. Then taking 250 dozen eggs at a time to the different food pantries. For three years, we have been able to disperse 5,000 dozen eggs to people.” As a member of the Shelby Lions Club, they assist Rich in the food distribution.
Beverly Stoddart is a writer, author, and speaker. After 42 years of working for newspapers, she retired to write books. She is on the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She is the author of Stories from the Rolodex, mini-memoirs of journalists from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Her new psychological thriller, The Woman with a Hole in Her Heart, will be published in 2024. Stoddart writes about authors and life in New Hampshire for www.InDepthNH.org.