November 22, 2006 | By: Terri McLean
FLEMINGSBURG, Ky.

As a line of vehicles inched their way around Flemingsburg Baptist Church, community volunteers methodically loaded each with all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast – turkey, stuffing mix, potatoes, vegetables and more.

“This is a life-saver,” said one of the vehicle’s occupants as she looked over her bounty.

“It’s a blessing,” said another, struggling for the right words to express her gratitude.

Without that outpouring of kindness from the Fleming County community and assistance from the mobile pantry program of God’s Pantry Food Bank in Lexington, they and others might not have been able to put a Thanksgiving meal on the table this year. Even providing regular daily meals is difficult for the nearly 100 people who waited patiently in line that cold November day.

“It is hard to realize that there are people going hungry,” said Donna Fryman, family and consumer sciences agent for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Fleming County and one of the organizers of the Thanksgiving food drive.

But they are, she said. “There are folks who just can’t make ends meet right now or they just don’t have the resources.”

Worse yet, Fryman added, many of those people are underserved. A high poverty rate – 18.6 percent of Fleming County residents live at or below the poverty level – and a lack of emergency food resources means there is not enough assistance to go around.

Perhaps that explains why Fryman, her food assistance staff and other community leaders “jumped at the chance” to shore up Fleming County’s emergency food resources by participating in the mobile pantry program. It will travel to Flemingsburg each month for a year to supplement the community’s efforts but also to help leaders establish a stable food program that will be able to meet the need on its own when the year is up.

If the success of the Thanksgiving food drive is any indication, Fleming County appears to be up to the challenge of building a self-sustaining emergency food program. Church groups, schools, youth organizations, businesses and individuals from throughout the rural northeastern 
Kentucky county pitched in and, in just a month’s time, donated enough food for 100 families to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.

“Often through this collaborative effort, people are able to see the resources various parties possess that individually limit what can be done for the community but collectively enable great things to be accomplished,” said Marian Blanchard, executive director of God’s Pantry, which provides food to more than 350 programs and agencies in 49 counties of central and eastern Kentucky.

This is the fifth year for the mobile pantry program, which has already provided a year of service to Bath, Boyle, Harrison, Jessamine, Leslie, Lincoln, Johnson, Morgan, Nicholas, Mercer, Wolfe and Rockcastle counties. Along with Fleming County, the mobile pantry is currently serving Anderson County, and another county may be added after the holidays, Blanchard said.

In each county served, officials from God’s Pantry initiate the program through the county’s Extension agents – people such as Fryman, who “know their communities very well and are very helpful at pulling together folks for an initial meeting at which we discuss the opportunity and the issue of hunger in their community,” Blanchard said.

“We can bring all the organizations together that can help and try to figure out how to work together better,” Fryman added.

That’s just what Fryman did after God’s Pantry officials approached her about the mobile pantry a few months ago.

“We got together and said, yes, we want to take advantage of this program, make use of the opportunity we’ve been given,” she said.

Key to the program’s success is the willingness of the community to “go above and beyond” what the mobile pantry provides each month, Fryman said. “This month we went beyond in providing a Thanksgiving meal for each recipient. We’re talking about $1,500 worth of food – at least.”

“You’ve got to give credit to the local effort,” said Wayne Wesley, a retired Kentucky State Police crime lab chemist who sits on the God’s Pantry board and is a volunteer driver for the mobile pantry. “A lot of times it takes care of the need … But every once in a while they need more peanut butter, they need more beans. That’s what we’re there for. We don’t discourage the local effort; we just want to make sure that they have a well-rounded food service for people that is well balanced.”

With Extension’s involvement, recipients also benefit from the educational resources that UK provides through its outreach organization. Along with the turkeys given out recently in Flemingsburg, each recipient also received step-by-step instructions for cooking the turkey, for instance.

“What we try to do, too, at the same time is try to provide nutrition education along with the food,” said Pam Sigler, Extension associate for family and consumer sciences and president of the Kentucky Food Security Partnership. “We work on budgeting, we work on how to stretch the dollar, and we work on how to handle food correctly and safely.”

Although the mobile pantry program has been in Fleming County only twice so far, it has been successful in providing awareness about hunger and initiating discussions about establishing a stable food program there.

“Hopefully, this will help us work out some of the problems so that folks can get the food they need,” Fryman said.

Contact: 

Donna Fryman, 606-845-4641, Pam Sigler, 859-257-2948, ext. 80324