Orphaned at age 5, times were once hard for Lola Reid.
When things got better she made herself a promise: "I decided I would help people if I could," she said.
Looking back at her life today in Maryville, Tenn., Sister Reid thinks of the years she spent feeding the hungry as the Blount County Food Pantry director. She thinks of the hungry she fed in Chicago, Ill., before that. She thinks of the 15 foster children she helped raise. And she thinks of the one thing she still wants to do.
Since opening in 1983, the Blount County Food Pantry has operated in five locations. Sister Reid, who suffers from cancer, wants to make sure that the pantry, which she runs without government assistance, won't have to move again. The owner of the current location plans to sell the building soon; Sister Reid is determined to buy it.
"I hope the food pantry can go on. Before I leave this world, I hope I can help them get a home," said the member of the Maryville Ward, Knoxville Tennessee Stake. "I would be the happiest person knowing that they don't have to move."
A permanent building, she said, would be a reminder of what the food pantry, that now serves more than 500 people monthly, has done. A reminder that there are people who are hungry.
Sister Reid has spent the last several months raising money. Just to make sure her building fund doesn't take away from food donations, she set up two bank accounts. And because of her diligence and generous volunteers, each is fuller than expected.
"Anybody that needs food, I give it to them. I have never turned anybody down," she said. "We have never been out of food, never been where we didn't have what we needed. God has always made a way for us."
Sister Reid said her determination was strengthened in her past.
"We come up hard," she said. "We had nothing. We didn't have food."
But things got better and she found herself in a position to help others. Then six years ago she met missionaries who were volunteering at the food pantry. Impressed with the selfless service of both the missionaries and the local members, Sister Reid investigated the Church.
Today, she says the Church is the only family she has left. Her faith in God, she adds, sustains her in times of trial and motivates her to help the less fortunate.
"I have been given a lot. I have been given a lot," she emphasized. "God has watched over me."
Sherry Drake, who worked at the food pantry with Sister Reid while she was investigating the Church, said her friend's life is filled with faith-promoting stories. "Lola Reid is like the local Red Cross," said Sister Drake, also a member of the Maryville Ward. Everyone in the community, she said, knows they can turn to Sister Reid when someone needs help.
"They say, 'We have this homeless family, can you help them find a place?' Lola will not only find them a place, she will pay the bill for them until they [can find a permanent home]. It is a small town. We don't have a homeless shelter per se.
"She is someone truly special."
Maryville Bishop Jimmy D. Hensley said it is easy to tell where Sister Reid's faith is centered. "She will sit down and talk to you and she puts you at ease."
William L. Nichols, second counselor in the Knoxville Tennessee Stake, adds that in the community Sister Reid is respected by people from many different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. "She donates all her time to the food pantry," he said. "She has been doing this for years."
Pictures line the walls of Sister Reid's office — pictures of the buildings that have housed the food pantry, of her foster children, of some among the thousands of people she has helped and of the dinners she puts on at the pantry twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
From the hospital room where she was recovering from surgery recently, Sister Reid recalled last Thanksgiving when volunteers prepared 250 turkeys. She thought of the turkeys distributed at Christmas. She promised that no matter how sick, she would resume work at the pantry as soon as possible.
And she did, returning the first week of January.
"She is an amazing person," said Sister Drake. "She just keeps on going."
Sister Reid said her philosophy is simple:
"I do what I can. I do what I think is right. I help where there is a need."