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Lexington anti-hunger efforts earn praise

A team from an organization fighting hunger and poverty worldwide wrapped up a three-state visit in Lexington on Friday and was impressed by a community garden in North Lexington and the size of the God's Pantry distribution program.

Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau and Joel Malebranche, of World Hunger Year, assessed food banks and feeding programs in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, finding out “who's providing what” in cities such as Louisville, Cincinnati and Bloomington, Ind., Quinn-Thibodeau said. WHY uses the site visits to identify methods that might be unique and effective and share them with other programs.

Communication among agencies that assist the same community is vital, and the pair thought Lexington organizations do a good job of sharing information. “It's not every day you see something like that,” Malebranche said.

Friday's visit took the team to Community Action Council centers on High Street and Winburn Drive, God's Pantry, The Rock/La Roca Methodist Church and the Catholic Action Center.

The WHY team liked the community garden that's taken root next to the Community Action Council on Winburn Drive. The garden is a melange of small plots where corn and other vegetables grow among flowers. Interspersed among the plants are brightly colored artworks — some functional, others decorative — created by neighborhood children.

“We're trying to build a sense of community with the garden,” said Jim Embry of the Sustainable Communities Network in Lexington, who was escorting the team. “It's not only for food; it also gives people a chance to engage with one another.”

The multipurpose garden also gives children an opportunity to build self-esteem, said Embry, pointing to a hand-painted tomato stake. “Who'd have thought that a tomato stake would have meant anything?”

At God's Pantry Food Bank on Jaggie Fox Way, the team toured the aisles of shelves and pallets that hold food and drink for the 50 counties that the agency serves.

The pantry distributed 15.5 million pounds of food in the fiscal year that ended in June, a 16 percent increase over the previous year, and produce accounted for 3 million pounds of that because the pantry has a well-oiled distribution system.

But there's a high price for that distribution system, said Marian F. Guinn, the pantry's chief executive officer. “Our fuel costs, just for the trucks, were up 37.6 percent for the year.”