Political expert feeds hungry

John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute, organizes canned goods for distribution at the OPEN M food pantry.

PHIL MASTURZO

AKRON, Ohio -- John C. Green's intellect has earned him a reputation as one of the nation's experts on the political landscape.

His heart has moved him to be a faithful volunteer in the food pantry at an inner-city ministry that is dedicated to feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, nurturing children and strengthening families.

"I've always been interested in helping the hungry," said Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. "My religious values teach me that we are to provide for those without the basics in life, and food is one of those essentials."

Every Wednesday morning, Green, 58, makes his way from his West Akron, Ohio, home to OPEN M in South Akron. When he arrives, he goes directly to the food pantry to stock shelves or pack grocery bags for needy families and individuals.

Looking more like an assembly-line worker than a university professor, Green quickly moves nonperishable items from the stocked shelves to the countertops along the wall. Once he methodically sorts the cans, boxes and bags of food, Green shifts his role to resemble a grocery bagger -- packing the heavy items on the bottom and making sure the weight is distributed evenly. He fills the bags and marks the outside as a way to identify whether the bag is for an individual or family.

Bobbie Boyer, food service manager at OPEN M, said Green is a tremendous help because he moves so quickly and has memorized what goes in each order.

"It's just really nice to have somebody who wants to come in and bag food, because I am the only staff person here and it would be impossible for me to do all of this by myself," Boyer said. "Without volunteers like John, this place wouldn't run."

Green joined the University of Akron 23 years ago as a political science professor. Within months, he was promoted to lead the Bliss Institute, a nonpartisan program that trains students for work in politics.

His work as a senior research adviser with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has made him an expert on the role of faith in American politics. The forum, a project of the nonpartisan think tank of the Pew Research Center, researches issues concerning religion and American society. Topics include abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research and church-state controversies.

Last year, the food pantry provided a three-day emergency supply of food to more than 5,500 adults and children. The pantry is stocked with food collected by organizations, civic groups and churches and purchased at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. The pantry also provides a monthly food giveaway and hot lunch program that served nearly 20,000 people last year.

OPEN M (Opportunity for People Everywhere in Need Ministry) was established in 1968 as a mission of four churches to serve the needy in Southwest Akron. Since then, it has grown to include the support of more than 100 affiliate businesses and churches.

One of those churches, First United Methodist in downtown Akron, is where Green and his wife, Lynn, are members. Lynn Green, a career counselor, describes her husband of 32 years as "a complex man" who is very spiritual.

"It is really important to him to balance his work, his spiritual life and his family. Volunteering at the food pantry helps fulfill his need to do something for others," she said.