HAZARD — The holiday season tends to be the time of year when the most donations are made to charitable organizations. With many people in the mountains in need, officials say it is important to keep up the giving spirit. Several organizations across Perry County donate time, money, effort, and food to help those in need, and they all could use a helping hand themselves.
Healthy, hearty food is a basic building block to life and necessary for health and well-being, yet hundreds of people in Perry County struggle to find this basic need. Nationally, one in six Americans face hunger every day, according to Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity. Kentucky ranks fifth out of 50 states for rates of poverty, and fourth lowest for access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle.
Here in Perry County, where the need is great, there are some groups of people who work throughout the year to help meet an unmet demand.
One local church has been on an ongoing mission to feed the families of the area for several years. New Hope Church in Hazard is involved in three different food donation programs. Its members offer emergency boxes that contain enough food to feed a family of four for a week. Members also fill backpacks with food for the children of the Hazard Independent Schools to have food on weekends, and they also take hot meals and distribute them downtown twice a week for lunch.
Pastor Michael Barnett said that while the church is very generous and the congregation works hard for these programs, the need has become greater than they alone can serve. They take advantage of the government commodity program, however, the food has been limited this year.
The federal government purchases food for the commodities program as a way to subsidize the agriculture industry and then gives the food to those in need. However, this year food shortages across the world have meant that much of the food grown in the U.S. was purchased by other countries, meaning there is very little unsold food for the program.
According to Barnett, these commodities can only go to people within the counties they are given, so people from other counties that do not have food pantries cannot receive them.
“There for a while we were the only food pantry in the county,” said Barnett, adding that another one, Family First Ministries in Hardburly, recently opened back up after a hiatus.
On top of operating the food pantry and distributing emergency food boxes, the church’s members also take food to people twice a week in the form of hot meals during lunch time. Bruce Mee is in charge of this program and said he gets great satisfaction out of seeing the people get a good meal.
“My best part is when we give them the food and they sit down to eat it right over on the side,” said Mee. “I just like to see them enjoying and eating.”
Mee said he has hopes of this program expanding to include other churches offering food during other days of the week. While there has not been a combined effort, other churches have stepped in to serve food during other days of the week. The Journey Church on Main Street feeds the hungry on Wednesdays and Sundays after church.
The emergency food boxes that are given out at New Hope Church are done in partnership with God’s Pantry, a large food bank that covers much of the commonwealth. God’s Pantry has agreements with stores to buy excess items and then sells, or donates them, to participating pantries like New Hope.
However, even with this partnership the pantry has been overrun with people needing food in the past few weeks. In just a week’s time they gave away 200 boxes. Barnett said this is due to some people falling through the cracks of the low income system.
“If you take a young couple, maybe in their 30s, and they have two or three children and they all end up out work, there is a lot for them. They can get a lot of help,” said Barnett. “You take a person that is single and maybe they have never worked so they can’t get disability. They can get maybe $500 or $600 a month.”
It is this hole in the system that many of the people they serve fall into. Barnett said they had a man who regularly used the services of the pantry and the lunch boxes. “I asked him what he drew and he said he was drawing six something, I think $688 a month,” said Barnett. “He was paying $500 a month rent. He got about $18 a month in food stamps.”
God’s Pantry will begin doing more to help these people through more partnerships in the area. Every year WYMT-TV holds a food drive called Mountain Harvest. Boxes are set up around Perry County and donations are taken to shelters and pantries.
This year, the Mountain Harvest Food Drive will be a partnership between WYMT and God’s Pantry, and instead of only being in one area and just during the holidays, it will cover all of Eastern Kentucky and run year round. The food boxes will be coordinated by God’s Pantry and will be picked up by partner organizations.
Another organization collecting food for the needy is the Kentucky State Police. This is the third year of the Cram the Crusier Food Drive. The first year over 1,500 pounds of food were collected, and then last year over 2,000 pounds. Trooper Tony Watts said that this year seems to be a slower year for donations.
Like many other organizations, a down economy means fewer donations, however, Watts said they are happy for whatever they can get. Donations of non-perishable food items are being accepted 24 hours a day at Post 13 behind Walmart on Justice Drive.
To get involved in these food-related causes, Barnett said that donating money is the most important thing. Since they can buy goods at severely reduced rates, money goes further if they are able to do the purchasing. However, he also said that the issues of hunger in the area could be solved if people just gave away the excess food in their homes.
Nearly 40 percent of all food purchased in the United States ends up being thrown away when much of it could be donated. Items that are donated to any of these organizations should be before the expiration date and non-dented since they have to meet certain government standards.
You can also donate time to any of these organizations such as the Journey Church or New Hope since they both need cooks to complete their meals.
More information can be found about New Hope Church online at www.newhopechurchhazard.org. God’s Pantry can be found online at www.godspantry.org.