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Palm Coast Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021 10 months ago

'It’s about being there': Q+A with Charles Silano, of Grace Community Food Pantry

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Silano talks with the Observer about gratitude, productivity and how to respond to people who cheat the food pantry.
by: Brian McMillan Contributing Writer

When he arrived for an interview with the Palm Coast Observer, Charles Silano was wearing a red polo shirt with a “Big Johns Appliances” logo. It’s not what Silano is most known for in Flagler County (he’s also a pastor and the leader of Grace Community Food Pantry, which is one of the biggest in the state), but it’s indicative of the depth of his commitment to this community. Big Johns Appliances is a store in Bunnell that sells discount appliances and, more importantly, hires people who are working on addiction recovery. For Silano, everything has a higher purpose.

 

What are you thankful for?

In light of everything we do for the community, I’m really grateful for the community in which we live.

During the year of COVID, last year, we saw our food pantry increase, in volume of visitors, 40%. We didn’t really know what we were going to do; we trusted God through it. It was amazing. The community started to show up. They saw the lines, and they reacted. We had people drive up and drop off checks, drop off food, people on bicycles — because they saw the line. Businesses started doing fundraisers for us. The community jumped in. We had up to about 6,000 visitors every month, and we were able to supply them. We made extra dates for the school district so they wouldn’t have to stand in line. We do a backpack program, and the parents of those children were families who needed some help, so we were glad to do it. I’m so proud of our volunteers.

 

If someone said, “I have a lot of problems in my life, and I don’t feel thankful for anything,” how would you respond?

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In all things be thankful.” It’s kind of a decree. He doesn’t say, “Be thankful for all things.” He says, “Be thankful in all things.”

Situations change. We all experience that growth process in Christianity as we find ourselves in circumstances that are not to our liking. I’m not grateful if I’m sick; I’m not grateful if my house burns down; I’m not grateful for that. But I’m going to remember who my God is, and that he’s still up there, and he’s got a plan for me, and I’m going to come out of this. He saw this coming. We try to keep our focus on what he’s doing, regardless of our circumstances.

 

You are the leader of the Grace Community Food Pantry, one of the biggest in the state. What has the pantry taught you about people, and what principles have you learned about managing a large operation?

If you’re there helping on a consistent basis, I find that people begin to trust you with other things in their life, whether they’re in a bad situation at home, or whether they’re in a bad situation themselves — they trust you more, even, for spiritual matters. It’s about being there. We haven’t had to intrude on anybody’s life; they come to you. So it’s very rewarding.

You also learn to forgive a lot. Not everybody is going to be a forthright person sometimes. People do work the system. There’s a small percentage in the industry across the nation, maybe 10%-12% will work the system. But if they’re willing to do that, they must really need the food, or maybe they’re selling it — I don’t know what they do. If they were honest with us, we’d still be willing to help them. You run into that, and you have to let that go. I’m not going to invent another program for the 12%; I’m going to focus on the 88, what’s more convenient for them.

"It’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance, not the judgment of God that leads to repentance."

CHARLES SILANO

I also remember that it’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance, not the judgment of God that leads to repentance.

I’ve had people bring back food, on several occasions: “I don’t need this, pastor. I was here, I took it, I have enough, I’m sorry I did it.”

As far as management goes, you rely on people. And you serve. We’re a 100% volunteer situation. You lead by service. You don’t just put people in positions and tell them what to do. Show them what you’re going to be entrusting them with, but work harder than anybody else, and you’ll inspire that volunteer to step forward.

 

Feed Flagler will help provide Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of families this year. Why is family mealtime so important?

It’s really about community at the end of the day. Living on the edges, in the margins, people hide. I find that same kind of issue is prevalent with people in recovery: You don’t want people to see you poor, to have people gaze at you while you’re getting a free meal. You want to feel like you’re part of a family. That does a lot to alleviate that awkwardness. They look down instead of looking at you straight in the eye.

That’s how we get refreshed, right? We go home, we have dinner with family. There’s acceptance there; you talk about things, you get a chance to see what problems they may be having, but you also get a chance to extend a hand up in such a way, not just with food, but, "What other areas of your life? Do you have your GED, for instance, or what’s your skill set like? Can I help you get a job? Can we navigate you to services that might help to alleviate the stress in your life?"

 

You’re also a pastor of Grace Tabernacle Ministries. When is that role most frustrating, and when is it most fulfilling?

If we’re honest, it can be frustrating (Laughs). We’re commanded to love one another, as Jesus loved us, and you grow in that process. The last fruit of the spirit is self control. While you’re exercising the other ones — love, peace, joy, long suffering — you’re developing self control, until finally you get to a point where you can be somewhat stable in it. Early on, I’ll be honest, I would pull my hair out every once in a while, and I’d say, “How do I handle this?”

I went to someone that called me because of a domestic issue — this was very early on in my pastoring — and I really didn’t know what to do. I was just going to be there for support. The wife came over to me, and she was looking for help. And she looked at me, and she said, “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” (Laughs) So at that point in time, I took a course in counseling.

 

What can churches do to help teenagers and young families?

You’ve got to be relevant. That doesn’t mean you change the message to make it favorable to them; you don’t have to do a rap song. Reaching the youth is really a challenge, but they’re no different from you or I; they are attracted to truth. It may be foreign to them immediately when presented to them, but they are looking for answers.

Teenagers who are not well schooled in the home or churches are prone to just drift to all kinds of theories that are not adding to their building blocks. This idea that you can do whatever you want without consequences — it doesn’t play out in real life.

Most every person needing to be set free from addiction has lacked structure. They don’t react to it right away in a great way, but then they catch on, and a few months down the road, they’re loving it.

"The idea that you can coach somebody by talking down to them is not going to work. You need to teach them what positive behavior looks like, and what the results are."

CHARLES SILANO

Young people love truth because they’re being lied to everywhere else. The songs they’re listening to aren’t giving them real-life situations, not building them up in anyway.

The idea that you can coach somebody by talking down to them is not going to work. You need to teach them what positive behavior looks like, and what the results are.

 

You’re also chairman of the Open Door Re-entry and Recovery Ministry, which provides housing to help people overcome substance addictions. Is the program succeeding?

Yes, it is. We had to close down because of COVID, and we started over again about five months ago. We have five women in the house with a supervisor, and they are loving it. They are completely different women.

The men? Same thing.

Not everyone is successful; if you don’t want it, I can’t help you. If you just want a roof over your head, I can’t help you. If a person goes in, and they’re going to be given a car for completing the program, they’re probably not going to make it, because they’re doing it for some reason other than themselves.

You have to realize that you can’t use, because you have this nature, and you’re going to go on a rip and run, and you are going to overdose and you may even die. You’ll either end up in prison, or you’ll die, or you’ll run out of drugs, and none of that ends well.

We have 100% success rate for those who apply the program. The five-year mark is where recovery truly takes place, and we’re probably running about 65%. We’re careful about who we take in. If they don’t assimilate into the culture of the house, it’s going to be difficult for them to remain there.

 

What is your secret to productivity and time management?

A lot of people ask me that. No. 1, I love what I do.

Most Mondays, I want to quit. You’ve geared up your whole week for church services, and I have to take a day to review. I don’t do much thinking on Monday; I try not to make decisions (Laughs). But I structure my day. I live by a schedule, and then I have to make quick decisions when something happens. The food pantry operates like this: “I have a truck for you, and it’s coming now.” So I have to make adjustments there.

I live by the four A’s. You have appointments, assignments, you make adjustments, and then you have an assessment. You have to be very honest with yourself.

Brian McMillan was editor of the Palm Coast Observer from 2010 to 2022. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children....

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