By Carla Caldwell
In the early 1950s, Deloris Wallis and her husband, Julius, joined Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. Soon afterward she became president of a womens’ service committee and learned that families from the community were hungry and looking to the church for food.
The Brookhaven church was only a few years old and didn’t have a program to provide help. Undeterred, Deloris Wallis went to her pastor, The Rev. Dr. Fitzhugh Legerton, to find how the church could help. He offered money from his pastor’s fund – if she would get the food to those in need. Wallis agreed.
She stayed true to her word for more than 40 years. In the process, she founded a community food pantry that lives on today. In October, the expanding program moved to the new Suthers Center for Christian Outreach on Broad Street in Chamblee.
The center, which also provides a thrift store and financial assistance program, is a partnership of five Chamblee and Brookhaven churches – Oglethorpe Presbyterian, Brookhaven Christian, Brookhaven United Methodist Church, St. James United Methodist, and St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal.
The food pantry helps needy families and individuals who live within the 30319 and 30341 ZIP codes. A plaque installed in the center pays tribute to Deloris and Julius Wallis.
Julius Wallis, who worked alongside his wife providing food throughout the years, is grateful for the gesture but uncomfortable with the attention. He lost Deloris in 2007, when she died suddenly of a brain tumor. “I’m getting all the accolades and she did all the hard work,” he said. “She was a doll, and I miss her. We worked as a team on everything.”
Deloris Wallis died two months shy of the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary and 15 days short of her 85th birthday. Not long afterward, Julius, 88, told the church’s current pastor, The Rev. Marthame Sanders, that it was time he stopped coordinating volunteers. Sanders said recently it takes a team of workers to accomplish what the couple did alone. “The Wallises have done amazing things and touched a lot lives,” he said.
Julius says he’s having a hard time without Deloris. Even so, he makes sure to volunteer three Thursdays a month at the food pantry.
“Deloris made the food pantry a mission of the church,” he said. “Now, with the economy in the dumps, there is a lot of demand. I’ll keep helping as long as I can.”
In the early days of the program, the couple bought and delivered the food. Deloris Wallis kept track of calls for aid and, when Julius returned home from his job as a natural gas engineer at Atlanta Gas Light Co., the pair bought three bags of food for each family. Each bag cost about $10 and was filled with basics such as flour, sugar and meat. They delivered the food in his pickup.
Bags today are more expensive and often contain canned goods and pre-packed foods. And, as in the early days, they are meant to get a family or individual through an emergency. “We no longer give out sugar and flour,” Julius said. “People don’t often make biscuits and that kind of thing anymore.”
Three years after starting the program, demand outstripped supply. But Deloris was unfazed. “She was nurse at heart,” said Julius Wallis. “If she could help anyone she would.”
The couple met during World War II when Deloris was a cadet nurse in training. Julius was an Army Air Corps flight navigator, who flew 35 combat missions. After the war they married and moved to his hometown of Atlanta. In 1955 they bought a house in Chamblee. There, they raised three children, Judy, David and Douglas.
Julius, who retired in 1987 from Atlanta Gas Light Co., lives in the home today.
By 1971, the program had moved out of the Wallis’ home and into the church.
To help fund the program Deloris started a craft store and turned to the Oglethorpe congregation for donations. Julius’s pickup returned to service to retrieve donated goods.
The Wallis’ daughter, Judith, lives next door to her father in Chamblee. She’s proud of her parent’s accomplishments. She admires the relationship they shared. “They were made for one another,” she said.
For more information about the Suthers Center and the Food Pantry, call 770-455-3358, or go to www.sutherscenter.com.