Huffpost Impact

Serving The Hungry In Recession-Hit Community

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CHERYL JACKSON

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From living out of her car to realizing her life's mission: Cheryl "Action" Jackson runs one of the most well-regarded food pantries in North Texas, serving over 31,000 people just last year.

Minnie's Food Pantry, named after Cheryl's mother, aims to make people feel good about themselves, even during the hardest times.

"I literally roll out the red carpet for every family I serve," Cheryl says. "I'm talking candles, music, the whole thing."

Most of the families in her affluent West Plano, Texas community never thought they'd be in this position, but now they're losing their jobs and their salaries are being cut in half.

"One woman pulled up in a BMW with her daughter, tears are streaming down her face, she's saying, 'I never thought I'd be here,'" Cheryl recalls. Another man who once donated $5,000 to the food pantry came back a month later in need of food for his family.

"People are one paycheck away from needing help," Cheryl says. "So many families need food more than ever."

Cheryl remembers when she, her husband, and two children were struggling to stay afloat, working many jobs for very little money. "I wasn't even able to get food stamps from the government to feed my family," she says."I pulled up to a food bank feeling terrible about myself, but thankful that at least my kids would have a meal."

Although she's always worked in support of the needy -- she and her sister started a program at their church to teach people how to take advantage of coupons and other ways to maximize their savings -- Cheryl finally realized that she had to dedicate herself to helping people full time. And thanks to the generosity of a landlord in Plano, she was able to secure the initial Minnie's space for free.

"I took all the food out of my cabinets and so did my best friend, Erica. Our first set of food was served completely from our cabinets."

Soon, thanks the generosity of local donors and community members, Minnie's became a very different kind of food pantry. Patrons are served fresh fruit and salads. Kids are given their own bags filled with healthy snacks and toys. When people walk in, they get grocery baskets with the Minnie's logo.

"Every little bit to make people feel good about being here," she says.

Over Christmas last year Minnie's had over 900 people lined up around the block waiting for food. But you never would have known why they were there. "I had a choir singing songs, face paint, holiday music playing. I wanted this experience to be different."

Cheryl expanded Minnie's recently into the space next door, and just returned from meeting with other community leaders in Florida about opening a Minnie's in Jacksonville within the next few months.

"My dream is to have a Minnie's Food Pantry in every single state," Cheryl says. "I'm thinking it's possible."

It currently costs Minnie's Food Pantry $5.40 to feed a family of four for one week. If someone wants to help the mission they can donate online or email Cheryl at cjackson@minniesfoodpantry.org.

WATCH a video about the pantry below: