By TRAVIS HANDY
Every weekday, Pulaski Daily Bread serves warm meals to hungry residents in a constant battle against hunger in our community. The organization has been operating for 25 years, making a difference in hundreds of lives every week through the efforts of volunteers, donors and a dedicated leader. That leader is Daily Bread Director Debbi Harrell, who was recognized for eight years of service to the community as this year’s recipient of the Southwest Times Civic Award.
Harrell, 52, is originally from the Fairlawn section of the county, and has always lived locally, spending some time in Christiansburg and now residing in Dublin. She has a daughter, Nicole, 31, who lives in Dublin. Harrell was previously a counselor for New River Community Sentencing, working for about 10 years with juvenile and adult offenders in Pulaski and Montgomery counties. In that line of work, Harrell used to place clients with the Daily Bread to perform community service, which coincidentally is what led to her interest in the program and its mission.
“I always said if the past director, Linda Semones, ever retired, I would love to have her position,” said Harrell, who has now seen Daily Bread through nine Thanksgivings and nine Christmases.
Harrell’s passion for her work is apparent when hearing her talk about the staggering hunger statistics in the U.S. One in six Americans is fighting hunger, and she often reminds people of the impact of hunger within their own communities, once telling The Southwest Times, “Look at your neighborhood … someone on your street is in that statistic.” Working for Daily Bread has affected Harrell’s life in a number of wonderful ways, and she swells with pride when she talks about the support of the program’s volunteers.
“It has been so positive. It’s a blessing,” said Harrell. “It’s not a job, it’s a calling. I feel blessed to have met all the volunteers and the people who come in here daily. They’re just a pleasure.”
The thing about Daily Bread that has impacted Harrell the most, she says, is the outpouring of love for the program.
“I don’t like to ever take credit (for this program),” said Harrell. “I could not do my calling without all these individuals who give hundreds—and some of them thousands—of hours every year to this program. There’s no way that I could do anything that I do (without them). The group of people who come in here and volunteer have made this program a success for 25 years, and I feel that I am just a very minute part of that.”
Harrell said she is humbled by having been chosen to receive The Southwest Times Civic Award, and she would like to thank her daughter.
“She is my main support,” said Harrell. “She’s just everything to me, and she’s a wonderful person.”
Nicole Harrell feels the same about her mother, recalling how dedicated she was to her work and education, even as a single parent.
“I think her main motivation is just to give as much as she has received in life, actually,” said Nicole. “She has been at the bottom before, and she knows how hard it is. She was a single mom, so she had a lot of struggles. I can remember her going full-time to college and also going to work full-time and raising me. So she really knows what it is to struggle and she just really wants to give back and make sure she’s the one who can be there for others because she had helping hands along the way, too.”
Nicole said she and her mom are still best friends, and growing up her mom was always her foundation. She said Harrell shares her love for her job and the power of people coming together for a cause.
“I think out of everything she has gained from this there’s just a sense of community and how wonderfully we all come together in any time of need,” said Nicole. “It’s just heart-warming to know that we live in an area like that.”
Her daughter said Harrell is always thinking forward in terms of Daily Bread, planning menus and budgets and devoting energy to it night and day.
“It’s something that she’s just really proud of and she really wants it to succeed for as long as it’s needed,” said Nicole. “We pray that one day it won’t be needed, but until it’s not needed, it’s still there for everyone.”
When asked what else she would do if she didn’t work for Pulaski Daily Bread, Harrell replied that she “would still be in the helping profession.” She said she could see herself still working to fight hunger and setting up Daily Bread operations in other communities that need them.
The Southwest Times has been recognizing deserving individuals with the civic award for about 50 years. The award is usually given to citizens who do positive work behind the scenes in the community and seldom receive recognition for the good they do.
“I would like to thank The Southwest Times for this wonderful award,” said Harrell, adding again that she loves what she does, and “I could not do what I do without all my volunteers.”