Feeding souls

No matter how busy her week gets juggling school, a full-time job and other volunteer work, Lori Clemons always knows where she'll be come Saturday afternoon.

For the past three and a half years, Clemons has rarely missed a Saturday shift helping pass out free bagged lunches to those in need through the Faith Feed the Hungry program, which serves an average of 500 people each week at the Salvation Army's offices on West Main Street.

”It's my passion,“ said the 27-year-old northern Kentucky native. ”I thought I'd try it out just one Saturday, and I've been going ever since. I just knew right then and there that that was where I needed to be.“

Clemons' dedication to the 11-year-old Faith Feed the Hungry program earned her recognition as one of the Salvation Army's three Outstanding Volunteers of the Year this year. The other honorees were Stanley Adkins and Bill Foster, who helped during the Salvation Army's kettle season as van drivers, said Justin Mullikan, the agency's volunteer coordinator.

”She's someone who stood out as a consistent volunteer,“ Mullikan said.

Clemons said she was very surprised and honored at the award.

”The work (with the Faith Feed the Hungry program) is so rewarding,“ Clemons said. ”I always tell people it's a bit selfish on my part, because I get so much out of it myself. I thrive being there and being able to help people. When I can't be there, I definitely miss it.“

More than 12,000 volunteers donated their time with the Salvation Army last year, according to Major Debra Ashcraft, associate coordinator of Central Kentucky Area Services for the Salvation Army.

”Many of our volunteers, like Lori, are very busy people. Their compassion for the homeless and poor compel them to serve,“ Ashcraft said.

Clemons is maintaining a 4.0 average at UK while completing her degree in elementary education and holding down a full-time job with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) processing dental insurance.

This summer in addition to her volunteer work with Faith Feed the Hungry, she will also help pass out bagged dinners to area children in need each weekday evening at Woodhill Park through the Employment Solutions Summer Feeding Program, she said.

Clemons has enjoyed working on several international mission trips — including ones to Bolivia and Belgium — through her church, Crossroads Christian. But she says her true focus is local volunteerism.

”My heart is in doing the same thing right up the street from where you live,“ she said. ”You can make such a large impact.“

On Saturdays, Clemons takes on a leadership role with the Faith Feed the Hungry program, helping show new volunteers the ropes. From 1:30 to 2 p.m., the lunches are assembled — usually a bologna sandwich, a banana or orange and some type of dessert is included.

Then from 2-3 p.m., the bagged lunches are served to everyone in line.

No applications are needed and no questions are asked.

When someone walks through the line, they are given enough lunches to feed themselves and everyone at home, Clemons said.

The Salvation Army has donated kitchen and facilities space to the Faith Feed the Hungry program since it began 11 years ago.

The program is run by volunteers from Crossroads Christian Church, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Centenary United Methodist Church, United Methodist Tates Creek, Wesley United Methodist, Southern Acres and Star of Bethlehem, said longtime volunteer David Gillis.

Gillis nominated Clemons for the Salvation Army's volunteer honor because, he said, he watched Clemons often go above and beyond in service to the Feed the Hungry program.

Last holiday season, Clemons dipped into her own pocket to make sure regular attendees at the program had Thanksgiving and Christmas for their families, Gillis said.

Often Clemons and Gillis work together to help Feed the Hungry program clients obtain necessities other than food — from work boots, clothes and school supplies to tents or sleeping bags for the homeless — through donations, church funds or their own personal contributions, Gillis said.

Gillis said the program serves a cross-section of people, from families who may be unable to pay their rent without the service to those who are homeless, addicted or mentally ill.

Maintaining a perfect GPA while working full time and devoting so much time to volunteerism ”can get difficult at times,“ Clemons admitted.

”But Saturdays (with the Feed the Hungry program) are like my release. I know if I put God first, everything will fall into place,“ she said.