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She stands in line and tries not to think, but a flurry of recent events comes at her hard, pelting her mind and heart like hail in a tornado.
Her husband can’t find work. The 13-year-old needs new clothes for school. The 10-year-old had an unexpected case of summer strep, and they just received the doctor’s bill to prove it. She’s not even sure the family car will get her home.
Her stomach rumbles just as she reaches the front of the line, and she coughs politely to cover up the embarrassing sound. A volunteer with a wide smile and gentle hands fills a bag with enough food to get her family through this hungry time.
She accepts the bag, nods her head, and pushes a whisper of gratitude between her lips. Tonight, at least, her family will eat. It’s a meal 60 years in the making.
From Humble Beginnings...
Mim Hunt was born in the Lexington area. She got married and moved to New York with her husband. While there, working in the tenement homes, she saw poverty for the first time.
After she lost her husband, Hunt moved back home to the Bluegrass, yet she saw the place with an entirely different set of eyes. A little older and a lot wiser, she brought her compassionate vision back into focus in Lexington. What she saw was poverty at the same level that existed in the New York tenements.
Men, women and children were hungry. So in 1955, Hunt started collecting food and distributing it to those in need from the back of her station wagon. She used her own basement pantry shelves to store what she collected from donations, and then went wherever people were hungry.
When a friend once called the area Mim’s Pantry, Hunt was quick to correct. “When the shelves are bare, it is God who fills the pantry,” Hunt said. “This is God’s pantry.”
Hunt’s mission from those humble beginnings spread throughout Fayette County, resulting in God’s Pantry—now in its 60th year—being designated as a food bank that has helped feed multitudes across the Bluegrass.
...To the Hungry in Kentucky
God’s Pantry Food Bank (GPFB) runs a 49,500-square-foot main distribution warehouse on Jaggie Fox Way in Lexington and supports several direct-service programs with the food it receives. Some of those programs include Kid’s Café, the Back Pack Program, Summer Feeding and the Senior Grocery Program.
In addition, GPFB supplies four individual pantries in Fayette County that feed at least 20,000 people annually. Food collections are taken in many ways to supply those four pantries. Collection barrels are positioned at area grocery stores, some organizations hold food drives, and generous individuals can simply donate food in any quantity directly to the GPFB headquarters.
But the food bank extends much farther than the confines of Fayette County boundaries. For about the first 30 years, God’s Pantry was designated as just that—a pantry. In order to help more hungry people across more of the Bluegrass, GPFB became a member of Feeding America in the 1980s. Feeding America is a Chicago-based charity that has 200 member food banks across the United States. It works to maintain best practices for its members, concentrates on food safety, and gives each member food bank, like GPFB, local autonomy.
Feeding America reaches out to large corporations for monetary donations, usually distributed to members in the form of grants, as well as food donations. It takes on the role of a food clearinghouse.
The concept of moving food from the producers to the hungry is actually quite simple. If Kellogg’s brand has 12 tractor trailers of cereal it needs to donate, it contacts Feeding America, which then makes that announcement to the member food banks. Member food banks check their inventories, make requests of Feeding America for a portion of that shipment, and then the food banks pay for the shipping to their main warehouses. Once a food bank warehouse receives a shipment, it is logged in the system and made available to food pantries that are supplied by each food bank.
GPFB in Lexington operates as the primary warehouse, with a secondary warehouse in Clark County, and there are three regional distribution centers—one each in London, Prestonsburg and, the most recent to open, in Morehead.
Thanks to an automated system, a soup kitchen in Pike County can go to the GPFB website, see what the warehouse has stocked in real time, and place an order based on what it most needs. Order pickers in the Lexington warehouse pull those orders, wrap them and put them on trucks to be shipped to the regional distribution center in Prestonsburg, where a member of the Pike County soup kitchen will drive just over the county line to pick up the items.
Just as GPFB operates autonomously, individual pantries in the 50-county area also operate under their own authority. Usually, those who receive the food should reside in the county where they are receiving the food and should meet a certain income level. There is no requirement for those who are fed to “pay or pray” for the food they receive.
Even though GPFB distributes 26.8 million pounds of food annually and serves 1.6 million people in a 50-county region, there are still food-insecure folks who wake up hungry and go to bed hungry. Food insecurity is defined as not having enough food on a reliable basis to feed every member of a household a steady, healthy diet.
Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians remain food insecure, but that doesn’t stop GPFB, or the individual food pantries, soup kitchens, senior shelters and summer camps they supply. Giving food to those who need it is the whole point of the mission: “To reduce hunger in Kentucky through community cooperation making the best possible use of all available resources.”
It’s a mission that Marian Guinn, God’s Pantry Food Bank CEO, takes seriously. Guinn was hired in 1997 to direct the operation. Over the years, she has seen referrals from social workers, family resource centers and other professionals who work closely with families facing daily struggles.
“Of the nearly 200,000 individuals served by GPFB annually, over half are children or senior citizens. Even so, 31 percent of households served have at least one person employed,” Guinn says. “Many of the people served are working but earn very low wages, making it difficult for them to meet all household expenses.”
In a perfect world, all mouths would be fed, all stomachs would be filled. Until then, GPFB will keep moving food in the direction of those who are hungry.
“God’s Pantry Food Bank has a rich history of service in Lexington and throughout central and eastern Kentucky,” Guinn says. “I know that our work makes a tremendous difference to literally hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, and that fact makes it an exciting place to work.”