VERSAILLES — Starting mid-afternoon every Monday, a small group of volunteers do the modern version of the multiplying miracle.
They start not with loaves and fishes but with staples like rice or pasta gleaned from a food bank and whatever meat or protein has been donated. Within an hour or so those bits and pieces have been transformed into a meal for as many as 120.
Some come in to the First Christian Church of Versailles for a little food and fellowship, while others who are homebound have the meal delivered. Gary Jones helps organize this free dinner for the Ministerial Association of Woodford County.
Five Woodford County churches — Versailles Church of Christ, Woodford Community Christian Church, First Christian Church of Versailles, St. Leo's Catholic Church and St. John's Episcopal Church — rotate volunteers, and the food is provided by a local food pantry.
The number of meals served fluctuates depending on the time of month. More folks seem to come in near the end of the month when Social Security and other support starts to run low, Jones said.
Jones is trying to rally local churches to add a second weekly meal because he doesn't think the current effort comes close to filling the needs of this seemingly affluent county.
According to census figures, Woodford County — known for large horse farms such as Lane's End, Airdrie Stud and WinStar — has a median household income of $55,124, nearly $13,000 above the median for the state.
But even here, 13.4 percent of the county's 25,000 residents live below the poverty level, statistics show. The number of nonfarming jobs has dropped by 16 percent since 2000, compared with about a 4 percent drop for the rest of the state.
Jones said he sees folks in the middle class hit hardest and in the greatest need.
Sharon Howard of Versailles came on a recent Monday to get carry-out meals for herself, her mother and a friend. Howard said she's been looking for work for a while and every little bit helps.
She heard about the Monday meals by word of mouth and said she likes the friendly volunteers. As long as she's looking for work, she'd probably come if there was a second meal during the week, she said.
Some folks are regulars, like Wanda Wallace, 80, who says she comes mostly for the company and to talk about her favorite team, the Kentucky Wildcats. But she eats her meal, going back for seconds on the pie, and arranges a to-go box on her walker as she leaves for the night.
Others, like a mom who comes in each week with her two daughters, said she is on disability and the free meal helps stretch a family income that's meager. But she declined to give her name, preferring to keep her business to herself.
Versailles is a small town and some people are reluctant to come in, either because they don't want to look like they are taking advantage of free food or don't want neighbors to know that times are tough, Jones said. That's why, he said, there is an open-door policy. Anyone is welcome.
It's the same down the road at Midway Christian Church. The church has offered a meal once-a-month on Mondays since 2011. Pastor Heather McColl said the church was overwhelmed when 60 people showed up for the first meal. Since then, she said, the numbers have varied from 60 to 100.
"We didn't know how it would go over, we didn't know the need," she said.
That first meal, where the basics were provided by the same food pantry that services First Christ Church of Versailles, was a true community event with contributions from several community gardens, including one sponsored by the Midway Presbyterian Church.
McColl's church is talking about expanding its efforts. They have added a community closet that is open after the meal.
"You can go down and for 25 cents pick up something from Ann Taylor," she said.
She's pleased with how things have gone so far. Not only does the meal provide a physical need, helping people stretch their food budget into the next month, but it fills a spiritual one as well. It provides a place where people can simply come together.
Every month, she said, she sees people sitting beside each other who may have just meet.
"That is what surprises me, what humbles me and what keeps me going as a person of faith," she said. "Everyone is seen as a child of God. It is just really good."
For more information or to volunteer
Contact Heather McColl at Midway Christian Church at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the efforts of the Ministerial Association of Woodford County, contact Gary Jones and leave a message at the church, (859) 873-3901, call his cell phone (859) 321-0582 or email him at email@example.com.
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: bluegrassmoms.com