By LISA WHALEY
For more than 14 years, Elmer Gillespie has been the man behind the curtain, quietly making sure area families in need have food to eat.
This past week, Gillespie became the man whose name is on the building where that food is provided.
“Elmer’s heart is so big for individuals, not just the community,” said Pam Daniels at the Sept. 14 dedication of Jonesborough’s new JAMA Food Pantry, now known as the Elmer H. Gillespie Building. “He doesn’t work for glory. This is just a reward for being faithful.”
Daniels, as a Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association member, was the one responsible for first drawing Gillespie to volunteer with the Food Pantry nearly two decades ago.
“I grew up in the church with him,” Daniels explained. “He was my Sunday School teacher. He was the one you went to with questions or for encouragement. And he was so committed to everything he did.”
Gillespie agreed to help, and this local food pantry, dedicated to providing food for the hungry with the help of JAMA churches was never the same.
“I’m very proud of my dad,” daughter Donna Gillespie Olujani said at the ceremony. “One thing I admire is instead of pre-made boxes, families can go in and choose because (my dad believed that) just because someone is down, they should be allowed to pick what they want and not just have to be told that they have to have certain things.”
Olujani believes that this care and concern has helped more families than her father ever imagined.
Families in need weren’t the only ones affected by Gillespie’s involvement. He, too, felt the impact of what the food pantry was accomplishing.
“I have loved it,” Gillespie said before the ceremony. “It’s hands on. It’s not like donating money. You actually see the people you are helping, and it makes a big difference.”
Even without the name, Gillespie is delighted with the new center, located on Persimmon Ridge Road inside what was once the old Jonesborough Senior Center.
“What we had before was about the size of (our new) waiting room,” Gillespie said. “We have so much more space. And everyone loves it.”
That space has also been renovated, thanks to the generous donations of community members, including shelving from Alderman David Sell with Old Towne Hardware and construction assistance from Mayor Kelly Wolfe and his wife Jennifer.
“Jenny and I paid for everything that wasn’t donated in materials in labor,” Wolfe admitted when asked about his contribution, adding, “It was a pleasure to do it.”
But what he would rather talk about is what the pantry, this building and Gillespie mean to Tennessee’s oldest town.
“We’re meeting a very critical need for our community,” Wolfe said. “This center and the volunteers who staff it epitomize the loaves and fishes story here in Jonesborough. I think it affirms for me all the good I know exists in our community when I see this many people come together to do something special.”
As for Gillespie, Wolfe said, “There have been a lot of good people come and go and the food pantry has been in two or three places. But the one constant has been Elmer Gillespie.
“You know, I think when a man feels called to make part of his life’s work service to others to that extent, you say thank you.”