Volunteer Spirit: Hetzel says Frankfort offers ample outlets for those willing to help

Photo by Phil Case – John Heltzel, center, is joined by, from left, Mary Hudson, his wife Donna Heltzel, and Katie Huckaby in the kitchen at the Access Men’s Shelter and Soup Kitchen as they prepare to serve lunch Friday.

Believing one’s Christian faith needs to be translated into action, John Heltzel has found Frankfort offers ample outlets to make that happen for those who have some spare time and the willingness to share it.

Friday morning, Heltzel and several past and present members of his Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church were taking their group’s monthly turn preparing lunch at the Access Men’s Shelter and Soup Kitchen on Second Street.

“I started doing this about five years ago,” said Heltzel, who retired in 2012 at the rank of brigadier general following a career in the National Guard. “My sister invited me to come down here, and that’s how I got involved.”

Heltzel says one of the many satisfactory aspects of volunteering is the people with whom he gets to work, both at the Soup Kitchen and the Franklin County Emergency Food Pantry, where he’s served as president of the board of directors for the previous four years.

“We have about 60 volunteers that help with the food pantry,” he said. “It’s such a blessing for so many people to give of their time, and the operation is 100 percent volunteer. This community is why it works so well.”

While there’s a sizable volunteer force, Heltzel says there’s always room for more.

The food pantry is also a great outlet for the young people in the community to learn about volunteering through participation, he said. This can be through school or church groups as well as Scouting.

Recipients of help from the food pantry are screened through ROSM (Resource Office of Social Ministries) from names it has received from participating churches. The food pantry distributes about 1,000 boxes of food per month.

“Last year we had some 65 food drives, many conducted by youth, to keep the shelves stocked,” he said.

Heltzel, 61, grew up in Frankfort but now lives with his wife, Donna, in Anderson County.

The Heltzels have two grown children. Chris and his wife, Natalie, live in Pasadena, California, and Chris works for Dreamworks. Justice and his wife, Caitlin, live in Midway and they have a daughter, Penelope Jane.

“The fire in California is close to Chris and Natalie,” he said. “You can believe we’re keeping an eye on that.”

Although he’s retired from the Guard and spends many hours volunteering, Heltzel also serves as director for resilience planning for the Electric Infrastructure Security Council — a position that’s as important as it sounds.

“When I was offered that job,” he said, “I just couldn’t refuse. It takes me all over this country and around the world. But that’s another story.”

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