As the coal industry continues its slide in eastern Kentucky, the Letcher County Food Pantry has seen a continuing increase in the number of families it serves each month.
In October, 200 more people received food from the pantry, which is located in Whitesburg, than in January.
“There’s so many people that are below the poverty level and they really rely upon that food,” said Geraldine McDonald, president of the Letcher County Food Pantry. “Without that they would really be hurting.”
In October, 546 boxes of food were handed out at the food pantry compared to 300 in January. So far in November, 530 families have been served. When McDonald began volunteering eight years ago, the pantry served 250 to 325 people each month.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people are appreciative,” said McDonald. “You can tell by the way they act when they come in.”
McDonald said people don’t usually sign up for services after August, but 30 new applicants qualified in November.
“They are in such dire straits,” said McDonald.
Those interested in getting food from the pantry are required to apply at Leslie-Knott-Letcher-Perry (LKLP) Community Action Council offices at 2 Main Street in Whitesburg. An interview is conducted to determine whether the person meets eligibility guidelines. Since the food pantry receives some commodities through God’s Pantry Food Bank, federal guidelines are followed. McDonald said those who are unemployed, receive Social Security or are disabled usually meet requirements.
The Letcher County Food Pantry serves residents who live from Millstone to the Perry and Knott county lines. East Letcher Ministries at Fleming-Neon serves people from Millstone to the Virginia border. Eolia Christian Community Outreach (ECCO) serves people who live across Pine Mountain.
The Letcher County Food Pantry has a base of 1,500 people, but not everyone gets food each month. The food pantry uses a card system to keep track of when and who picks up food. Recipients show proof of identification and sign for the food.
The food pantry is open from noon until 3 p. m. Monday through Friday. The food pantry, located at 204 Madison Ave., is operated out of a house owned by Whitesburg First Baptist Church, which also pays the water and electric bill.
“Once a month if they need it, they can come and get a box of food,” said Mc- Donald. “Some only come if they actually need it.”
On average, 30 people are served at the pantry each day. Back in the spring, McDonald said a record was set when 68 people picked up food boxes in one day.
“It was just unreal,” she said.
McDonald said the food handed out at the pantry is meant to supplement what people have in their cabinets or the food they plan to buy.
Boxes of food vary depending on number in households. Boxes usually contain cereal, peanut butter, a meat product (frozen or canned), cheese, soup, crackers, fruit juice, water, canned drink and vegetables. Extra items may include cookies, chips, doughnuts or other items donated to the pantry.
The food pantry pays up to 19 cents per pound for food through God’s Pantry Food Bank. The food, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, is delivered each week to Hazard and Geraldine McDonald’s husband Roger picks up the food at New Hope Church in Perry County. God’s Pantry Food Banks also distributes commodities such as peanut butter, pinto beans, macaroni, spaghetti, pasta sauce, lamb, beef, sausage, fish, beef and chicken.
Several years ago, the McDonalds bought a box truck with lift gate to transport food.
Once a month, the Mc- Donalds travel to Hagerhill to pick up food donations. Food City and Walmart also give regular donations.
The food pantry has an annual budget of about $25,000, which is made up entirely from donations.
“Sometimes we’ll go over that and sometimes not,” said McDonald. “We’ve never run out of food.”
Because the food pantry doesn’t receive federal dollars or grant funding, the food pantry relies on monetary and food donations to stay in operation.
McDonald said neighbors help neighbors.
“Churches send in money,” said McDonald. “Individuals send in money. For a year and a half, a couple gave $200 a month.”
A few years ago, an individual gave $5,000, she said.
“People are generous,” said McDonald. “It’s purely through the Lord.”
McDonald said monetary donations are preferred because the food pantry can get more food by purchasing items at 19 cents a pound through God’s Pantry Food Bank.
Donations are tax-exempt. Mail donations to Letcher County Food Pantry, P.O. Box 416, Whitesburg, KY, 41858. Call the food pantry at 633-5881.
Volunteers are needed. At least three volunteers are needed to work each threehour shift.
“The volunteers need to be serious about volunteering,” said McDonald.
The food pantry started in the late 1970s after a coal company was fined for the Scotia mine disaster. Part of the settlement went to a community service project.
Geraldine McDonald began volunteering with the food pantry about eight years ago when she worked as a registered nurse at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital. After retiring, she has served as president for the past six years.
Geraldine McDonald and her sister Shirley Combs have volunteered three days a week at the food pantry. Roger McDonald and Shirley Combs’s husband Buford picked up food and delivered the items to the food pantry.
The McDonalds and the Combses are moving soon to Supply, North Carolina, which is about five miles from Holden Beach. December 15 is the closing date on their house.
Today (Wednesday) is the last day they will be volunteering at the food pantry.
Beginning December 1, the food pantry will be open from noon until 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.