Food pantry reaches milestone in new home
The Food Pantry for Woodford County has been in its new home for one year, and Executive Director Sharon Hardin couldn’t be happier. Its new building at 20 Field of Dreams Road has increased the community’s awareness about hunger in Woodford County. One example, in wake of its opening on Feb. 2, 2015, five new large food drives were organized in the community during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. Overall, the food pantry received and sorted over 25,000 food items during November and December. “We have more food now than we’ve ever had,” said Hardin. Because of the support received from local businesses and people in the community during a capital campaign that began in November 2014, the Food Pantry for Woodford County opened its new building “completely debt-free,” said Hardin. “It’s just hard to believe that everyone stepped up for this new facility,” she added. Volunteers at the food pantry are among those continuing to step up to stop hunger in their community. “This is something that really touches them, and they see the need,” said Hardin. And whenever a need arises, volunteers from local churches and elsewhere are always willing to help, she said. Last year alone, 191 people logged at least 8,650 volunteer hours at the local food pantry. The food pantry’s new 20,000 square-foot building has a large warehouse and sufficient storage space in four refrigerators for a perishable foods program, which allows local families to receive fresh vegetables and fruit. “Our clients absolutely love this (program),” said Hardin. “They cannot believe that they’re going to get to bolster their meals at home with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables.” Those types of foods are just not affordable for low-income families, she said. Volunteer Debbie Schumacher typically works the farmers’ market counter so she gets to help families choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Almost universally they’re so thankful,” she said. “…The first-time people are shocked at how much they’re able to get.” During warmer months, farmers in the area will supply the pantry’s market with in-season fruits and vegetables, Schumacher said. In addition to a warehouse and more storage space, the new food pantry has a reception area and public bathrooms, which make for “a warmer situation for our clients,” Hardin said. Offices are available to interview people privately when they sign up for assistance. First-time clients, who cannot believe they are in a situation where they need food for their families, are especially comforted by having privacy when they sign up for help, Hardin said. With the fresh fruits and vegetables, the food pantry can provide a family with enough food for two weeks. A family may receive the emergency help for up to six times a year. In January, the Food Pantry for Woodford County served 131 families. Its doors are open Monday evenings from 5 to 7 and Thursday afternoons from 1 to 4. “I like the idea that when people get into a little bit of trouble (financially) that there’s some place where they can go to get help,” said volunteer Helen Miller. She helped John Lancaster shop for groceries on a recent Monday evening. He cannot work because of his diabetes, and struggles to live on a monthly disability check and food stamps. “This keeps me through,” said Lancaster, who was born and raised in Woodford County. The food pantry’s former location in the Community Education Center gym was only 700 square-feet, and not large enough for food distribution days. So that direct service program was held outdoors at the Huffman Pavilion in the Woodford County Park before the new food pantry opened. Volunteer Ralph Johnson describes helping families on those food distribution days as so emotional, “you might shed a tear sometimes … They can’t believe the food that they get.” “It’s a blessing. It’s really a blessing,” added Johnson, a Versailles resident who serves as pastor at Mount Zion AME Church in Monticello. “It all comes from the Lord.” A warehouse and larger food storage area make for a better situation for food pantry volunteers and for the 144 families picking up government food commodities, Hardin said. “It’s a whole lot better,” said volunteer Dick Brock. He said a larger facility with a warehouse gives volunteers more room to work. “The community does a great job of donating stuff. We don’t ever run out of anything,” said Brock. He started volunteering at the food pantry when he retired from Kroger after 48 years. A senior commodity program helping Woodford Countians, 60 years old and older who meet income guidelines, has grown to serve 144 seniors beginning this month. The senior program, which began in 2010, had been serving 96. “I’m sure we are not reaching everyone who could use this (help) because it is a pride issue for a lot of our senior citizens, and there are some families – if they can struggle and make it – they won’t ask for help,” said Hardin. While the Food Pantry for Woodford County does receive United Way grant dollars, ongoing operational costs at its new facility are paid with monetary donations.