Food distribution events draw big crowds

Warren County Parks and Recreation Department staff members help with a Feeding America food distribution event held last Friday at Buchanon Park.

Not even one of those multi-state softball tournaments brought the kind of crowd that showed up at Warren County’s Buchanon Park on Friday.

Local residents were lined up at 7 a.m. for a 10 a.m. free food distribution event coordinated by United Way of Southern Kentucky, the Elizabethtown office of the Feeding America nonprofit and the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department.

The third Feeding America food distribution event held in Warren County in a nine-day period, this one created a traffic jam on Nashville Road and provided boxes containing at least a week’s worth of food to 658 families, although it could have served more.

“We did a couple of food distribution events – one Wednesday at Ephram White Park and one Friday at Buchanon Park – and Friday’s event was huge,” said Chris Kummer, the county’s parks and recreation director. “We ran out of food.”

A way of addressing needs brought about by the job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the food distribution was a need identified by the United Way staff and Feeding America.

United Way Director of Resource Development Ellie Harbaugh said a need for food distribution was identified through the organization’s 2-1-1 telephone line that connects people in a multicounty area to health care and social services resources.

“Our 2-1-1 contact center has been taking triple the number of calls it normally gets, and the No. 1 reason why people are calling is food insecurity,” Harbaugh said.

Responding to that trend, United Way worked with Feeding America to increase its normal once-a-month food distribution in Warren County.

“We normally come to Warren County the last Wednesday of every month, usually at Lampkin Park,” said Monica Ruehling, development director for Feeding America’s Elizabethtown office. “In a normal month, we’ll provide food for about 500 households. (March 25) we saw more than 800. We decided to put together two more distributions and reach different parts of the county.”

Although put together hurriedly, the April 1 event at Ephram White served more than 500 families. The Friday event at Buchanon Park was supplemented by leftovers from Ephram White, but there still wasn’t enough food for everyone who showed up.

Harbaugh said United Way quickly arranged the food distributions, working with Kummer at the parks and recreation department to utilize the parks that are now closed to the public because of the pandemic and resulting social distancing guidelines.

“They were fabulous,” Feeding America’s Ruehling said of the parks and recreation department employees who put together the food boxes and distributed them to residents who drove through the parks. “They really stepped up and took control.”

Kummer said parks department staffers were outfitted with gloves and masks as they loaded the food into vehicles.

“It was a great way for us to serve local residents in a different way,” Kummer said. “Now more than ever there is a huge need out there. This was a beautiful thing. All those who came through were very appreciative. Some are going through rough times.”

Kummer said he would like for his staff to handle similar food distribution events “several times a month”.

“The Elizabethtown (Feeding America) office is going to look at their inventory and establish additional dates,” he said. “It’s a great way to use our gyms while they can’t be open to the public.”

The Elizabethtown Feeding America office serves a 42-county region, so Ruehling isn’t sure when another Warren County food distribution event can be scheduled; but she said she will continue to work with United Way and the parks department and schedule other events as soon as possible.

“Warren County is definitely on our radar,” she said. “With a large population, there’s going to be more need.”

Ruehling said Feeding America has the food items to meet the needs, thanks largely to the 2018 federal trade mitigation program aimed at assisting farmers suffering from damage due to unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations.

“More food is staying in the United States instead of going to other countries,” Ruehling said. “We’re able to buy truckloads of items for pennies on the dollar.”

Despite the availability of food, Ruehling said distribution can be a problem.

“We only have four trucks, and they’re running every day,” she said. “The biggest challenge is operational.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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