ETHAN’S TABLE: Columbus teen’s effort to feed the hungry and help the needy continues

When then-Smith Elementary fifth grader Ethan Reynolds established Ethan’s Table in his front yard in early 2020 to collect food for the hungry, it looked a lot like a kid’s lemonade stand.

Fastened to the folding table in front of the house on 13th Street, east of Gladstone Avenue, were two hand-lettered signs. One said “Ethan’s Table” while the other just read “free food.”

While his initial intent was to help the unemployed during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, he soon learned there was a big need among the community to address food insecurity.

Ethan’s Table includes canned meats and vegetables and protein bars and fruit and tuna and toiletries and bottled water and … donations. Visitors were invited to “take-what-you-need” or donate what could help their neighbors, with the table being open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in the early days of the pandemic. He started the effort after he saw more than one local person around town holding a cardboard sign with a message of a need for food.

Using $10 of his own money, he told his mother he wanted to buy food for others and give it away.

“When we started, Ethan was doing a lot of home-schooling in an elementary class, so he had a much smaller work load,” said the boy’s mother, Jessica Reynolds. “All activities were on hold, so he was free and available to do a lot of the table stuff.”

Although most Americans worried about avoiding the virus, the Reynolds family discovered that caring and generosity are also contagious.

Before he advanced from grade school, the youth inspired Smith Elementary to start its own food pantry. “Ethan’s Pantry” is located in the foyer of the school at 4505 Waycross Drive.

Today, the now 13-year-old Ethan is taking on new challenges. He’s enrolled in the Columbus Signature Academy program at Central Middle School, learning to play the saxophone and is in his third year as a member of the Columbus Young Marines.

That organization recently bestowed upon Reynolds its Community Leadership, as well as six other awards during a single evening. The youngster’s compassion also resulted in the boy being honored by the American Legion Auxiliary in Seymour.

Although he admits being on TV makes him nervous, Reynolds was interviewed live for Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom,” a national online news service titled “Right This Minute,” and by reporters for Indianapolis television stations.

“This has really surprised me because I always thought it would remain a small food pantry,” he said of Ethan’s Table. “But to get over 1,100 followers on Facebook? It’s crazy.”

New location

Due to the winter weather, Ethan’s Table was moved on Jan. 16 to the America and Roby Anderson Community Center, 421 McClure Road. When the move was announced on the Ethan’s Table Facebook page, the post received 21,241 views in just a single day, Jessica Reynolds said.

It’s understandable why many believe a community center that largely serves low-income residents is a perfect fit for Ethan’s Table. But Jessica Reynolds said she had reservations because the center has irregular hours.

“We like to be available anytime during the daylight for people to come get stuff,” she said. “But you can get items out of the Blessing Box 24/7.” Those with donations should drop them off at the Reynolds’ home at 2513 13th St., just east of Gladstone Avenue.

Although the community center president says she has been caring for sick family members recently, Beth Turner adds the facility on McClure Road should be open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning Tuesday, Jan. 25.

An agreement with the community center keeps most food and other items locked up inside the building. But the family has agreed to stock the recently-installed Blessing Box on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while the community center will take care of stocking the other days of the week, Jessica Reynolds said.

When there are meal giveaways, details are announced on the social media page, Turner said.

In recent months, the charity has been able to occasionally provide full lunches or dinners due to contributions from culinary businesses like The Fresh Fork, a catering business associated with Cummins, Inc. and Masterson’s Catering of Louisville, Kentucky.

And when the Reynolds family attempted to buy food from Big J.T.’s Craft BBQ, the restaurant on Hope Avenue decided to donate their dishes, rather than sell them.

The distribution of those meals is usually completed in three to four hours, Jessica Reynolds said.

The newly-installed Blessing Box, located north of the community center’s front door, was contributed by the Columbus Jeep Club of Indiana and the professional looking signs promoting “Ethan’s Table” were donated by Prestige FastSigns.

When asked what she thought were the most significant changes to the program, Jessica Reynolds said most who received assistance in 2020 did so because they were out-of-work. In contrast, those being served now are trying to fight inflation by finding ways to make their food dollars stretch further, she said.

Another change is that Ethan’s Table has grown from a small family endeavor into a community effort with several regular donors, Jessica Reynolds said.

“I plan to keep it going for as long as I can,” Ethan Reynolds said. “But maybe we might hand it over to someone else some day in the future.”

“Now, he’s got a much heavier school load, activities have resumed,” Jessica Reynolds said. “I don’t want it to be a stress on him, but we made a family decision to continue this.”

Ethan continues to think up ways to fill the needs of the less fortunate.

“I’d like to offer more toiletries,” he said. “We don’t have as many as I would like.”