By Jared Lindell
There have been 20 Axel W. Carlson Award winners since 1986 that now all share the title of “unsung heroes.” Every one of these past recipients demonstrated a significant contribution to the community through their personal actions and volunteer work. There is now another to add to this long list, as the Community Foundation has honored Eleanor Esch of Cassadaga as the 2007 Axel W. Carlson Award recipient.
When looking for the type of person that fits the mold of an Axel W. Carlson Award recipient, there are two key points: First, the individual must have contributed to the community in some way that has a definable impact. Second, the individual must have never sought out nor received any recognition for their contribution or volunteer work. Eleanor Esch fits both of these points to a T. For it was Eleanor who saw a need within her own community and took the initiative to service that need.
With the help of three friends, Eleanor established the Cassadaga Food Pantry in 1990. The Pantry, which is located in the basement of Cassadaga Baptist Church, originated when Eleanor learned of two local families in need. To help these families celebrate the holidays, Eleanor and other church members purchased food for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and delivered this food to the families. After this situation, there was a revelation that there must be more families in need within their community.
Eleanor and the three other original founders of the Pantry contacted Rural Ministries of Dunkirk to learn more about how to service these needs. From this meeting, the Cassadaga Food Pantry was created. What started out as two families receiving some holiday help has grown to the point where 70 families now receive assistance, and Eleanor has been there from day one. In addition to simply welcoming visitors and clients that walk through the Pantry doors, she also keeps all the records, handles the finances, orders the necessary food items (from Rural Ministries), stocks the cupboards, and purchases extra items needed on her own. She has done all these things for 17 years, and it should be mentioned that she is now 90 years old and is the last remaining survivor of the four individuals who established the Pantry.
As far as the Pantry’s operations, it is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and provides a stocked grocery bag once a month to those in need. In addition to Eleanor, there are nine other individuals who volunteer for the Pantry. Eleanor is quick to acknowledge that this operation could not succeed without her volunteers, “I have the best crew of workers I could ever want. They provide comfort and an ear to our clients. The people I work with are angels.”
Eleanor received the Axel W. Carlson Award at a Ceremony held in her honor on June 8th at the American Legion in Cassadaga. The theme of the event was simple: As long as there is need in the Cassadaga community, the Pantry will service those needs by feeding mouths and souls. Eleanor closed, “We are very sensitive to our people. We have provided a feeling of warmth, kindness, compassion, and lent an ear. This is the most gratifying thing that could ever happen in my life.”
Published in the June 10 edition of The Post-Journal