On Jan. 14, several community members and representatives from various local organizations participated in a virtual “Food and Faith Summit.” During the summit, participants discussed several topics surrounding food insecurity in Perry County, including barriers being faced and steps that can and are being taken to resolve those issues.

Anthony Ritchie, project director for the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge: Perry County, said he is a new member to the coalition, however, he sees a lot of great cooperation and expects many accomplishments in the future.

“Over the last few months as I've learned about all the work that's been done I've really been filled with hope just to see the level of support and the willingness of the community to be involved,” said Ritchie. “I know if we can keep building this movement to continue to bring folks in, to continue to keep reaching out, that we can really start to make a difference in people's lives. I mean like a real, tangible improvement in health, of nutrition; an improvement in the availability of foods to those who may not be able to get them.”

Ritchie said that, as the community continues to work together as they are, they may be able to solve many of the issues they have found in the area and will bring about change.

“Thinking about the work done and the work to be done, I envision a coming together all across the county where we all realize just because things exist as they do now, does not mean that things necessarily stay the way that they are,” he said.

During the summit, partners participated in several activities to determined the root causes of food insecurity in Perry County, as well as what barriers people are facing, such as transportation, communication, lack of availability and affordability of products. Additionally, the participants worked together to develop strategies to understand those causes and barriers and connect with people to inform them of places and times to access food.

Ritchie said on of the ways they plan to connect with more people is by reaching out to various groups in the community, including the homeless population, college students and other groups that may commonly experience food insecurity.

“The poor college kid is a common thing people understand, and that's one of the under-served populations in the county,” said Ritchie.

Food insecurity, he said, consists of more than just not having food.

“Food insecurity also has to do with if what you're eating is healthy, if it's nutritional,” he said. “You might be eating regularly but if 75 percent of your food is junk food and fast food then that's not necessarily nutritious, it's unhealthy.”

Another way the group plans to help the community is by expanding the number of available food pantries and food banks in the county, said Ritchie. Ritchie said there are pantries and food banks across the country but people don't always access them, because of a negative association with their image.

“There seems to be some kind of stigma with admitting you might need help to feed your family or whatever that might be,” said Ritchie.

The group, he said, plans to provide educational opportunities that will dissolve those stigmas.

“One of the big topics that we've been talking about is making sure there are food pantries and food banks in all corners of the county, but logistically that might not be able to be a reality. Talking about delivering food to people on an as needed basis could be a solution that we have to consider,” he said.

Another project the group discussed during the summit was plans to create a centralized food hub in Perry County, an endeavor they say is already underway.

“There is real concrete hope to have a centralized food hub in Perry County,” said Lori Helfrich, parish life director for the Mother of Good Council Church in Hazard. “It is something that is actually moving towards steps of becoming a reality so it's very exciting.”

“I think Lori has found a possible building and she's at the part now where she's trying to work out some of the logistics financially of actually acquiring that building,” said Ritchie. Once acquired, the hub could potentially house large food donations for distribution to various pantries, and could also serve as an educational space and a community kitchen, said Ritchie. The specifics, he said, will be determined once a location is purchased.

To become involved in the actions of the coalition, contact, glenn.ritchie@louisville.edu. For more information and updates, visit the “Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge: Perry County” Facebook page.