SMITHFIELD — For the second year in a row, the county’s most prestigious community-service award has gone to a Clayton resident.
Tom Ricks is a member of Horne Memorial United Methodist Church. On Thursday, he received the 2013 Frances Finch Hobart Award for Voluntary Community Service for his work with the Johnston chapter of Stop Hunger Now, an international relief group.
Ricks launched the chapter two years ago by bringing together churches to help pack freeze-dried meals for hungry people around the world. He decided to join the effort after one of the church’s members returned from a relief trip to Haiti.
“It’s not about me,” Ricks said after Thursday’s awards ceremony in Johnston Health’s Medical Mall. “It’s about creating a spark to get other people to do things.”
Creating the spark took time. Ricks began by sending out mailers to churches around Johnston but didn’t get much of a response. So he reached out to church leaders in person.
“It was left with me – I was the only one who had that passion,” Ricks said of the outreach effort. “I was trying to touch them in a way that would get them to (contribute).”
His persistence paid off. Last year, 51 churches around the county gave about $54,000 worth of food, which volunteers packed into pouches for shipment to Haiti.
In all, Ricks played host last year to eight food-packing events that drew a total of 1,044 volunteers.
“It’s much more tangible – and internalizing and making your giving personal – than giving money,” Ricks said. “People feel like God’s children, coming together to feed someone in the world.”
This year, his sights are set even higher; his goal is $71,250 in food, enough for 285,000 meals.
Ricks’ community services goes beyond Stop Hunger Now. He’s a member of the Mid-day Rotary Club and gives his time to other local charities. Norwood Williams, president of Serve the Need in Johnston County, nominated Ricks for the award,.
Williams, who’s involved in the fight against hunger locally, said Ricks is always willing to help. “Tom can never say ‘no,’ ” Williams said. “He’s more involved locally than he is nationally, or internationally.”
John Hobart of Smithfield created and endowed the Hobart award in 2006, naming it for his wife, Frankie. The winner gets $750 to donate to the charity of their choice; Ricks gave his cash award to Serve the Need.
Award panelists Wanda Blow and Betsy Whittington said they were impressed with both the depth and breadth of Ricks’ community service. He gives his time to the Smithfield Rescue Mission, Relay for Life, the school system’s Backpack Buddies program, the Boys and Girls Club in Selma and Clayton Area Ministries, just to name a few.
“He just stood out because he’s been involved in so many organizations,” Blow said.
Whittington added: “And it’s been ongoing for three or four years.”
But Ricks’ passion is helping Stop Hunger Now. Much of the food goes to the orphanage that Horne Memorial helped establish in Haiti, and Ricks gets choked up when he talks about how important the meals are to the children of Haiti.
The food provides sustenance, but it also leads kids to churches, schools and orphanages, places where they can get help and support.
“If a child has one meal out of that bag … that’s a game-changer,” Ricks said. “It gets them to a positive environment.”
But Ricks remains humble about his personal involvement in the program. “It’s God’s plan, not my plan,” he said. “I’m the mustard seed and the willing servant.”