A food pantry in Bardstown is helping to close that meal gap for 700 local families who choose their own groceries.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Bread for Life Community Food Pantry volunteer Don Bresnahan walked with a client along the produce aisle.
“Want some broccoli?” asked Bresnahan.
“Yes,” answersed 84-year-old Mildred Beavers, as she pushed the shopping cart while her 85-year-old husband walked beside her.
“How many heads?” asked Bresnahan. “Just one? You’re sure?
This pantry in Bardstown provides its Nelson County clients with 60,000 pounds of food each month.
The food pantry operates on a point system, with clients allocated a number of points per month, based on income and number of people in the household, to use for their “shopping.” Many items are just one point and there’s an “anytime shelf” near the entrance where clients can come in every day, if they like, and pick up a few items for no points. All produce comes under the “bonus” category, meaning no points are used.
“How ‘bout some tomatoes now?” asked Bresnahan. “These are all hothouse tomatoes, but they’re really good. I never hear anybody complaining about ‘em.”
This is a “client choice” food pantry that’s different from a traditional food pantry where all clients get the same bag or box of food. People who get food assistance from a traditional pantry may have a salt or sugar restricted diet, allergies or other medical issues, so they may not be able to eat some of the food chosen for them.
The “client choice” model, like Bread for Life, is set up like a small grocery store. One of the goals of a client choice food pantry is to cut down on wasted food, since people are choosing what they’ll use.
Bresnahan walked with Beavers along shelves stocked with a variety of goods from quinoa to pickles to herb tea.
"Salad dressing. You need salad dressing, ma’am?” asked Breshnahan. “We’ve got lots, all kinds, vinegarette, raspberry, feta.”
Food pantry clients can take an active role in managing health concerns when they can choose items, even when the family budget runs short.
Jennifer Vincent read the label on a bag of tortilla chips.
“Like, I found these here. I’m allergic to everything under the sun,” said Vincent. “They have no corn and they’re gluten free. I can eat ‘em.”
Vincent is one of between 1,600 and 2,000 Nelson County residents, in 700 families, who receive food each month from this pantry that’s a ministry of St. Joseph Parish in Bardstown, and part of St. Vincent de Paul Outreach Ministries.
The Map the Meal Gap 2019 report shows Nelson County has a food insecurity rate of 11 percent, down from 12 percent a year earlier.
Statewide, Kentucky has a food insecurity rate of 15 percent, down slightly from the previous year.
“I think there’s a lot of people hungry in Kentucky, and it’s more than what people think,” said John Wells, a Bread for Life volunteer.
“A town this size, there’s probably thousands of people that actually need it that probably wouldn’t even come to it because they’re too proud,” said Wells. “I know a lot of proud people wouldn’t do it. They’d just as soon starve as go to a food pantry.”
Bread for Life Community Food Panty manager Chris Godby said statistics back that up.
“About 30 percent of people who need food assistance and living in poverty will never set foot in a food pantry because of the humiliation, the pride, the shame, whatever the reason,” said Godby, who has statistics on how many people in the county do not have enough food.
“If we were hunger-free in Nelson County, how many would we be serving? According to the stats, about 12 percent poverty, and then you do all the math, that should equal out to over 2,000 families we should be serving,” said Godby.
Some of the 700 families who do use the pantry come for about four months, then get back on their feet, said Godby. So the number of families served remains about the same, because some no longer need assistance and the pantry welcomes some new clients.
For some Nelson County residents, it’s a long-term relationship.
“Our stats show that the folks we’re serving, about a high 70 percent is either elderly or disabled folks,” said Godby. “Their situation isn’t going to change so we’re going to be helping and serving them the rest of their life, you know.”
Godby said the rest are mainly families with children, including some single mothers.
“So what we’re trying to do here is trying to create the safest place for the most vulnerable person,” said Godby. “We want it to be welcoming. We want it to be joyful and feel the love of God, to be honest. We’re all in this thing together.”
Sometimes small offerings at the pantry create joy - and self-sufficiency.
Bobby Hale hasn’t come for several months, and on this day he just brought some friends. Then he noticed something in the "anytime" section that he can use.
“I got some seeds, they had some seeds out here to plant in your garden. That’s the first time I’ve seen them here,” said Hale. “Looks like they go some seedless watermelon here.”
Does he have a garden?
“I will this year,” he said.
Hale will be closing some meal gaps in his own kitchen this summer with watermelon and fresh vegetables from his garden.