Difference Maker: Avon Crocker feeding the hungry through FISH food pantry, church meals

Avon Crocker (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Avon Crocker spent her childhood in Madison, Indiana, during an era when it wasn’t unusual for neighbors to help neighbors. She was admittedly poor, but didn’t know it. Everyone was. Clothes got handed down to the next child that size. Families shared food from their gardens. There weren’t garage sales, because every item was either needed or could be used by someone else in the community. Giving back became part of who Crocker was.

After graduating from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, with a degree in secondary education, Crocker married her highschool sweetheart and together they moved to Cape Girardeau in 1986. A few months later, she began volunteering for FISH Emergency Food Pantry, after a neighbor introduced her to the program.

“Back then, we operated out of our homes and shared child watching,” said Crocker, who was busy at home with two young daughters. “When we moved to a stationary location, I took the kids with me. If someone needs a volunteer and I can do it, why not?”

Now, 37 years later, Crocker’s children are grown, but she is still helping the community through the FISH food pantry. For the last six years, she’s served as the organization’s board president. Some of her duties include writing and applying for grants, operating the food pantry and working with businesses, schools and individuals to obtain donations.

When families or individuals access services, the goal is to provide them with enough food and toiletries for two weeks. For those who are homeless, one-day food packs are available. Between organizing food drives, filling out paperwork and collaborating with other food banks in the area, Crocker stays busy. But getting to know people in the community is what keeps her going.

“People have tough times. Even people who have jobs,” Crocker said. “It’s not that people are lazy, but sometimes they can’t make ends meet. It's hard. People donate and we pass it on. It’s a chain of events that allows it to happen. It feels good to help someone else.”

Most of the time, helping someone comes in the form of food, but other times they need something more, like prayer. Crocker has been asked on several occasions to pray with or for the people of Cape Girardeau. It stretches her faith and reminds her that she is right where she is supposed to be.

Crocker believes the Bible verse John 12:8, “You will always have the poor among you …” and because of that, there will always be opportunities to serve others.

During 2020, when her home church, Centenary United Methodist in Cape Girardeau provided to-go meals to the community, Crocker jumped right in. Over the past few years, this ministry has morphed into sit down community meals at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday night. Crocker provides the meal on the first week of every month, utilizing Food Giant’s fried chicken, Sam’s Club potato salad, her own home-cooked green beans and homemade bread pudding made from leftover Sunday school donuts.

Between 60 to 70 people come through the doors of Centenary each week for this community meal. On Crocker’s night to provide food, she goes through the line just like everyone else. She identifies someone she’s never seen before, sits down with them and strikes up a conversation. While working the register at the food pantry, she hands out the Centenary meal calendar and invites them to come and eat. If they come once, they often come back.

Through decades of dedication and service, Crocker has made a difference in the lives of those around her, meeting basic needs with a helping heart and a smile on her face.

“Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time,” Crocker said. “When someone needs you, go just a little more; go above and beyond.”