Nellie Chester has spent countless hours collecting and distributing precious gifts. Not beautiful pieces of gold or fine jewels, but jars of peanut butter, packages of meat, and loaves of bread. Residents of the greater Eighty Four community know when they need help, she is the person to see.
Forty years ago, a fire damaged Nellie’s home, but not her spirit. From the ashes came a lifelong commitment to service, especially to human needs agencies that provide vital assistance to those who are struggling or are in crisis.
“People were so good to our family after the fire. The community hosted a clothing drive and helped us get anything else we needed. So, we decided we were going to pay it forward and help someone else,” she stated. True to her word, she juggled service activities while raising six children (Jim, Eddie, Cindy, Kathy, Greg, and Lisa) with her husband, Edward.
Although willing to help anyone as best she can, Nellie has been particularly committed to addressing the issue of hunger. For nearly 30 years, she has been involved with the Ellsworth Food Pantry (originally located in Somerset Township). Her highly efficient food distribution system, which became a model for other county pantries, enables her to serve about 100 pantry clients in an hour.
Additionally, Nellie has been personally involved with securing significant contributions from generous grocers. Immediately upon learning that good food was being discarded when shelves were restocked with fresher inventory, she contacted the stores to get those groceries to hungry families. And through her relationships with local government officials, she has advocated for funding for programs that provide assistance to those in need.
The recent downturn in the economy hit many local families hard. Food prices continue to rise, and it’s getting even harder to stretch that dollar. But seeing the relief on the faces of pantry clients who receive their box of food truly motivates Nellie. Her passion for this work has been an inspiration to others, and it is not unusual for as many as 20 or 24 volunteers to assist with the pantry’s monthly food distribution.
“There are so many people living in poverty in our area, and they are lucky that they have a caring angel looking after them. Nellie gives much more than would be expected of her in this position. I am honored to know and work with her,” wrote Beth Ann Stiffy, Ellsworth Food Pantry volunteer.
Compassion and care for those less fortunate have helped Nellie find a kindred spirit in the 2011 Waller Award honoree, Jeanne Allender, the founder and volunteer director of Washington Christian Outreach. Their friendship also ensures that no donation for the needy will ever be wasted. If one of their organizations receives a contribution that cannot be used, a call will quickly be made to see if the other can.
“Do you know what a good feeling is? Seeing people you’ve helped, people who didn’t know where they were going to sleep or where they would get their next bite of food, get a job and back on their feet. That’s a success story,” Nellie stated.
Nellie is a past member and past President of the Greater Washington County Food Bank Board of Directors and past President of the Eighty Four Lions Club. She continues to serve her community as the coordinator of the Ellsworth Food Pantry, a voucher writer for the Salvation Army, a supporter of the Great American Food Drive, and a member of the Washington County Democratic Committee.
“Everyone is here on earth for a short time. It is what you do with that short time that makes a difference. It is what you do to help other people that really counts,” Nellie said. “Look around your neighborhood. If you see someone who is struggling, take his or her hand and help."