During the COVID-19 pandemic, several families and individuals faced food insecurity as a result of loss of employment, loss of homes, loss of loved ones and other circumstances. In an effort to help replenish and restock the shelves of local food pantries, AEP Kentucky Power, along with multiple community partners, participated in the Power Up the Pantry event, taking up donations of non-perishable food items, toiletries and money on Thursday, Aug. 26. Donations will benefit God’s Pantry Food Bank and Facing Hunger Food Bank community agencies.
Drives were set up at various locations and took place all day. Locations included the ARH Medical Mall off of Black Gold Blvd in Hazard; as well as in Ashland, Pikeville and Prestonsburg. In Hazard, officials with the event said they collected approximately 1,926 pounds of food; 2,800 pounds of soap and cleaning supplies; and $600 of monetary donations.
Shane Allen, Kentucky Power customer service account manager, said Kentucky Power is grateful to be able to hold the event and help the community.
“KY Power tries to do this every year,” said Allen. “We just try to make it a great event once a year to gather as much donations of food or other supplies — also monetary donations — whatever we can get from the community,” he said.
Allen said Kentucky Power likes to start talking to schools and businesses around a month before the event so there is more time for donations to be gathered before the drop off date. Supporting partners that worked with Kentucky Power during the event included Anthem, God’s Pantry, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, WYMT, Facing Hunger and Appalachian Regional Healthcare.
“We like to see the food pantry be replenished in our area because there are a lot of folks out there that go hungry night to night, and we just like to make sure we do our part to help as much as possible,” said Allen.
Michael Halligan, CEO of God’s Food Pantry, said the pantry was glad to participate again and help refill the shelves of the New Hope Food Pantry in Gorman Hollow. “We are so thankful for AEP Kentucky Power, ARH Medical Plaza, Anthem, WYMT and a host of other sponsors who are putting on Power Up the Pantry again this year,” said Halligan. “All of the food and funds we collect, all of those products and financial donations support food pantries and meal programs in the counties we collect them in,” he said. In Perry County, he said, donations will benefit the New Hope Food Pantry.
Throughout the day of the event, Halligan said there were multiple truck loads delivered to the pantry. “Over the course of the day we’ve already had four truck loads of product that we have collected here at the site at the Medical Mall,” said Halligan. “We estimate right now that we’re at about 135,000 meals between the food and the funds that have been donated so far,” he said.
Halligan said after last year’s event was canceled, he is thankful to see the event return and the community come to help following the increasing numbers of food insecurity being reported across the state.
“The first Power Up the Pantry was in 2019. We had planned to do it last year, but with COVID-19 being so uncertain and none of us really knowing exactly how to navigate through the pandemic when it first started, AEP Kentucky Power made the decision, appropriately so, to cancel last year’s event,” said Halligan. Following the pandemic, he said, more people faced food insecurity.
“Across central and eastern Kentucky, 16.5 percent of folks who live in central and eastern Kentucky are food insecure. That’s a quarter of a million people. Here in Perry County it’s 21 percent, almost 6,000 people,” said Halligan. “Those are before the pandemic. Most of the estimates that we have right now would suggest that need is up 15 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The need is daunting, and it’s so heartbreaking to see people who don’t know where their next meal might come from and not have nutritious food on their tables,” he said.
“Often times a person is one unfortunate circumstance away from hunger. It could be loss of job — many people have seen that during the pandemic. It could be an unexpected medical event or situation — many people have seen that during the pandemic too. It could be loss of a loved one or it could be separation from a loved one. There are all kinds of circumstances that people find themselves in through no fault of their own where they’re not sure where their next meal will come from. We’ve seen during the pandemic people that never dreamed they’d be hungry come to us and say they don’t know what to do,” said Halligan.
Events like Power Up the Pantry, said Halligan, show hope for the area.
“One of the blessings of events like this is we see the spirit of the community. Kentuckians helping Kentuckians. Folks here in Perry County who know they can help someone who doesn’t have nutrition to put at their table to have a nutritious meal,” Halligan said.