Merlene Davis: Shopping event helps victims of domestic violence

Next weekend, no matter what the wintry conditions are, Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear wants all of us to visit three area grocery chains to not only shop for the Super Bowl, but also to help the 15 Kentucky Domestic Violence Association shelters stock up on some non-perishable items.

Feb. 1 marks the Sixth Annual Shop and Share Day event Beshear started in 2008 to help those shelters stow away canned goods, toilet paper and hygiene products for the families they serve.

In its first five years, the effort has raised $2 million in goods and monetary donations.

Individual volunteers as well as members of groups will be stationed at Kroger, Food City or Super Dollar Discount Foods handing shoppers a list of needed items. We then add as many of those items as we choose to our grocery purchases and then give them to the volunteers as we leave.

It is one of the easiest ways to help an organization that provides such much-needed support when it is so desperately needed.

Josh Nadzam, development specialist for GeenHouse17, formerly known as the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, said all the supplies donated in the 17 counties that GreenHouse17 supports will stay right here. Those counties are Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Harrison, Jessamine, Lincoln, Madison, Mercy, Nicholas, Powell, Scott and Woodford.

"This is tremendous for us," he said. "It is one of the main things that kept us stocked up all year. We just recently ran out of last year's goods. It is something we desperately need."

Darlene Thomas, GreenHouse17's executive director, said in the 17-county area, the shelter served 4,000 non-residential individuals last year, with legal services and advocacy, counseling, case management, and housing support. They fielded 6,000 crisis phone calls and offered safety planning, intervention and other resources.

Plus, about 300 women and children stayed in the shelter.

That means a lot of personal hygiene items, cleaning products and non-perishable foods are required.

A survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Kentucky 11th in the nation for the number of people experiencing intimate partner violence.

Nadzam said volunteers are needed at each store to hand out the supply list and to collect the donations.

At the Kroger store on Richmond Road in Lexington, members of the Suburban Woman's Club will be on hand to do that, just as they have done since the effort began.

The club's president, Dianne Gerstel, said about 20 members as well as friends and relatives will share the eight hours of the event, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Gerstel said men are very generous. "They always come back with an item or a couple of items," she said.

Plus, she said, recruits from the Lexington Police Basic Training Academy have helped by transporting the items to the shelter. "They have worked their tails off," she said. "The police academy is indispensable."

She said the amount they have collected averages about $10,000 each year.

Nadzam said Girl Scout troops have also volunteered as well as individuals. But he still needs more people.

He said a group could "adopt" a location and have its members staff it all day in at least two-hour shifts. "They can divide up the workload however they wish," he said. "We desperately need volunteers."

He estimated he would need 184 volunteers throughout the 17-county area.

In a release, Beshear said, "In America, one-third of women report abuse in their lifetime, and many of those women turn to shelters to escape the violence and rebuild their lives. Shop and Share is a simple way for Kentuckians to support domestic violence shelters and help victims and their families."

Volunteer or donate, either service helps a lot.

"We are all in this together," Nadzam said. "It can happen to anybody."