For more than 36 years, Walt Barbour was a grocer in Lexington, working as manager of Randall's on Romany Road until Kroger bought it in 1996 and then opening Pantry Fresh Market at the corner of Henry Clay Boulevard and Liberty Road.
When he sold Pantry Fresh in December 2002, he immediately started working for Employment Solutions Inc., as director of Fresh Approach, a program that provides jobs and teaches skills to intellectually challenged adults.
Those adults make sack lunches for the free Summer Food Service Program for Children, and they slice and dice produce for area restaurants and the Federal Medical Center.
So he still hasn't ventured far from his grocery expertise. He's just added some social work.
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"I've always had an interest in social work," Barbour said. "As much as I loved my customers, some of whom I still see occasionally, I also love these people.
"Not everybody has the ability to work with this population," he said. "But I see them as people and that's how I treat them."
At Fresh Approach, employees sack hundreds of nutritious lunches for the summer program that include a sandwich prepared and individually wrapped from AdvancePierre Foods in Cincinnati, a fruit, a vegetable and a half pint of regular or chocolate milk. Usually the sandwich is a turkey-based protein or cheese.
Some of the sites also offer breakfast — a bowl of cereal, milk and juice — and/or dinner.
Workers earn a percentage of what able workers earn in that industry, Barbour said, depending on his or her skill level. If a worker with no disability earns $8 an hour, a worker who can produce only 50 percent as much work earns $4.
"We have some people so severely handicapped they may only make two lunches an hour," he said. "Even if they can't do anything, we make sure everybody gets paid something."
The workers may receive disability checks, which often go for their room and board. Any extra money they earn comes in handy.
"We get paid on the 15th and the 31st," Barbour said. "They look forward to those checks just like us. If they have a check for $25, it is the same as us getting $1,000. They are always so grateful and appreciative."
Most of the funding for Fresh Approach is from Medicaid, he said. The free lunch program is federally funded but administered through the state.
Children who are eligible must qualify for the free and reduced lunch program at their schools, or live in an area that has been cited in census data as being below federal guidelines for poverty, and they must be under 18 years of age.
In addition to the summer program, Barbour said, Fresh Approach has contracted with area restaurants such as Ramsey's and Gumbo Ya Ya, and with FMC to provide prepped produce and cole slaw year round.
The 140 workers who are employed either ride Red Cross WHEELS transportation to and from work, have private transportation or are transported by Barbour, who picks up and delivers 14 workers each day.
"Currently we have jobs for all who have applied," he said. "We will keep them engaged. They will not sit around and be idle.
"But we really could certainly use more work for individuals," Barbour said.
If you would like to open a site for the Summer Food Service Program or if you have prep work for Fresh Approach employees, call Barbour at (859) 806-2832.
A federal feeding program is also being operated separately by the Fayette County Public Schools.