“I don’t have a lot of money, but what I do have is love.”
That was one of the guiding principles of Janet Pack, the executive director of Asbury Church Assistance Network (ACAN), who died of a heart attack on May 25.
Throughout her 58 years on earth, Pack routinely gave whatever she could to feed the hungry, clothe the cold, and to give respect and love to anyone who felt hopeless, regardless of their status or their condition.
“She was very selfless as a mother, as a cousin, as an auntie, as a friend,” said her youngest son, 38-year-old Wesley Pack, who had a close relationship with his mom and would often talk to her six times a day.
Janet’s path forked in many directions. Over the years, she was a minister, a certified nursing assistant for the Department of Aging and Disabilities, and a licensed caterer at her own business. She also provided addiction counseling.
She joined ACAN five years ago, but her impact transcended the scope of the food pantry.
“Through her leadership, we were able to help people struggling to meet a food need, a personal hygiene need, a school supply need,” said Rhonda Jackson, an ACAN volunteer. “We had people come and ask for different things like diapers and baby items, so with her flexibility and her outreach, there was no limit on what we could do to help a person.”
When providing meals to hungry families, Janet insisted on them having nutritious options and not scraps. She also wanted to offer those meals and hygiene items without passing judgement.
“She didn’t want people to have to jump through hoops and give all their personal information to get just a loaf of bread, for instance,” said Margo Arnoux, ACAN’s acting director, who worked closely with Janet. “We provided the food they needed, but we also gave them hope and inspiration that it wasn’t always going to be that way.”
Janet’s nephew Andre called her a mentor who helped ACAN raise funds for a new van, serve meals to roughly 120 families every Thanksgiving, and bring items to the homeless population at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“She was keen on not having people feel belittled because they needed help,” Andre said.
Family members and friends closest to Janet — whom they affectionately called “Big Momma” — all have stories demonstrating her fun-loving nature and her compassion.
As friendly as she was, she could also be stern when needed.
Two years ago, ACAN was selling fish dinners to help cover funeral costs for Janet’s other son, who did not have life insurance. A man arrived, drunk, and started causing a scene. Wesley remembers Janet seating the man, giving him free food and water, and telling him, “You need to get yourself together. I don’t ever want to see you in this condition again.”
“He later came back and thanked her for that,” Wesley said. “My mom didn’t know him from Adam or Eve, but she knew he was someone’s child. She was always willing to go into the deepest, darkest hole to help somebody. Even when we lived in a bad neighborhood, she would help strangers. She was fearless.”
Janet’s motivation, in part, stemmed from her own childhood. When she was 16, her mom, Dorothy, died. Andre said Dorothy had a nurturing and loving spirit similar to Janet’s.
“She would constantly affirm you to make you feel comfortable, to feel safe,” Andre said of Dorothy. “That type of love was a motivator, and when Janet didn’t see that in other people’s lives, she took that on as a responsibility.”
Janet’s sister, Barbara, worked to support the family, which was homeless in Waldorf, Maryland.
That experience helped her to relate to people and put them in positions to reach their full potential, especially ACAN volunteers. As Arnoux explained, Janet was never intimidated by someone having a higher position than her or doing something she had not achieved. And when someone was down on their luck, Janet was usually the person to pick them up.
“She was there to meet an immediate physical need, but she looked way beyond that and saw the potential that they had,” Arnoux said. “She would say, ‘I see something in you. This is just a moment in time for you. This is not always going to be this way. There is something in you that needs to be birthed.’ And she would just bring positivity into people’s lives. Food was just the vehicle to which she was able to reach them.”
Arnoux has taken over as ACAN’s acting director. She and Jackson worked closely with Janet and plan to continue or fine-tune many of the projects the trio already had in place.
“We had many things that are in progress — many programs, ideas, plans, grants that are in the works, and my goal is to see that come to fruition,” Arnoux said.
Janet had a sister, three brothers, three sons (Wesley, Marcus and William Jr.) and a daughter (Tynisha) and half-siblings she never met. She was married to William Pack Sr., her partner of 42 years.
Even though Janet is gone, her biological family and ACAN family both feel her with them daily.
“Even in the absence of her physical body, I still feel her presence, because she provided so much with her spirit,” Wesley said. “She didn’t deal with you in the physical, she dealt with you in the spiritual.”
According to Wesley, his mom’s faith had prepared her for death, a sentiment she shared as recently as Mother’s Day 2020.
“My mom lived her life to the fullest and gave everything she could, even when she had nothing,” he said. “She wanted you to feel that you were somebody and that somebody loved you, no matter what condition you were in. She didn’t have a lot of money. She did this all from her heart and with her relationships.”