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New freezer to help food pantry meet demand


KEEPING IT COOL – A new freezer at the Letcher County Food Pantry will allow the food bank to store frozen foods to make the most of buying in bulk to feed hungry families in Letcher County. At the ribbon cutting were (left to right) Karen Griffin, development director of God’s Pantry Food Bank, Vicki Holbrook, director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, God’s Pantry Chief Executive Officer Mike Halligan, and Letcher County Food Pantry Secretary/Treasurer Harold Bolling. (Photo by Sam Adams)

KEEPING IT COOL – A new freezer at the Letcher County Food Pantry will allow the food bank to store frozen foods to make the most of buying in bulk to feed hungry families in Letcher County. At the ribbon cutting were (left to right) Karen Griffin, development director of God’s Pantry Food Bank, Vicki Holbrook, director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, God’s Pantry Chief Executive Officer Mike Halligan, and Letcher County Food Pantry Secretary/Treasurer Harold Bolling. (Photo by Sam Adams)

A new walk-in freezer will help the Letcher County Food Pantry, located on 119 N at Ermine, feed an ever-increasing number of local residents who don’t have enough to eat.

The pandemic tested the pantry’s ability to feed people more than ever before, with people running out of food as COVID 19 caused businesses to shut down, and put family members in hospitals for weeks on end.

“We saw people that we’ve never seen, and a lot more emergencies,” Director Vicki Holbrook said.

In all, the pantry saw 800 emergency walk-ins last year, about double the number it usually sees, Secretary/Treasurer Harold Bolling said. The pantry limits emergency distributions to one per family per year, but encourages those who have an emergency to sign up for regular help. The pantry deals with “food insecurity,” the concept that nearly everyone is subject at any time to facing a situation where they don’t have enough food.

“One sick person and several trips to Lexington throws everything off,” Holbrook said.

The new freezer, installed last week after the organization received it as a grant from God’s Pantry Food Bank, will allow the food pantry to take advantage of special deals on frozen meats and other foods and store them for longer periods, Bolling said. Before, the food pantry had to acquire food in small quantities and to operate week-to-week because it didn’t have enough freezer space to keep a larger supply.

“We can plan better, and that new freezer is one step in that planning,” Bolling said.

Mike Halligan, chief executive officer of God’s Pantry, said seven counties received either freezers, coolers, or combination units after his organization received a grant from Feeding America, a national network of food pantries. The focus of the grant was rural hunger, and God’s Pantry set out to find opportunities to best meet the needs of rural areas.

“It became pretty clear to us pretty quickly that expanding infrastructure to pantries which could keep more food was really important,” he said.

The grant comes not only with money for the freezer, but also a $10,000 stipend for the initial stocking of the freezer. The food pantry usually operates on total budget of just $12,000 to $14,000 a year.

Bolling said the pantry also has a problem with cooler space to store fresh produce, but getting a split unit with both a cooler and freezer would not have provided enough space for either.

“We just had to make that choice,” Bolling said.

They chose the freezer because frozen foods will last longer than fresh produce and minimize waste.

The local pantry gets donations of food from Food City, Walmart, and Dollar General, reduced rent on its building, government commodities, and food it purchases with donations, but much of its food comes from God’s Pantry though deliveries from its affiliate New Hope in Hazard, which acts as a hub for deliveries to area food banks.

God’s Pantry has its headquarters in Lexington, but operates regional distribution centers in Floyd County, London and Morehead, a commodities storage facility in Clark County, and an order fulfillment center in Lexington.

God’s Pantry is also associated with Grow Appalachia, which created the Farmer’s Market in Whitesburg. God’s Pantry runs an aggregator facility in London where small farmers can take their produce to be added to that from other farms and sent to market. That minimizes transportation costs for farmers and provides a reliable supply stream that is more desirable to supermarkets.

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