Kentucky voices: Thanks for allowing us to serve the hungry

Marian F. Guinn is CEO of God's Pantry Food Bank.
Marian F. Guinn is CEO of God's Pantry Food Bank.

At this time of year, it seems important to pause from the routine of daily life and the hustle and bustle of the holidays to be thankful. It's often easy to take for granted our daily blessings and comforts but, in my line of work, I've learned to always be thankful.

At God's Pantry Food Bank, we are truly grateful for the generosity and support shown to our organization throughout the year. When the economy went south in 2007, we buckled in and prepared ourselves for the worst. We knew that more people would need our help than ever before, and we were right.

In fact, the increases that began in 2007 still haven't stopped. Just this past August, our five Lexington pantries served more than 2,000 families — a first in our organization's 57-year history. And our member agencies throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky continue to report increased levels of demand for their services that range from groceries distributed through a food pantry to hot meals at a soup kitchen or meals and a safe place to sleep at a shelter. We know we are affecting more than 211,000 people in our 50-county service area each year, but we are concerned that there might easily be more than 100,000 more who need our help.

Another impact of this stark economy has been a reduction in donated food from donors, large and small, all across America. So we look for new ways to bring food into our system and get it into the hands of hungry Kentuckians.

We began repacking bulk food products into convenient, family-friendly packages using volunteer labor. This program soared, increasing the hours donated by our volunteers by nearly 40 percent last year and getting staple products out to our agencies at a reasonable cost.

What we didn't know is how this economy, with all of the job reductions, rising costs and startling statistics, would affect the financial health of our donors and their ability to continue to support us as generously as they have throughout the years. While we are certain that many of our donors are being forced to make sacrifices in their daily lives due to increased costs of living and economic barriers, we are grateful to everyone who has continued to support our efforts.

We know that we are truly fortunate that in this difficult period, our friends continue to trust us with their financial donations, enabling us to continue to meet the demands of those living on the margins in our community. This support allowed our food bank to distribute 28 percent more food in 2011 than the year before — a record 22.9 million pounds or 17.6 million meals to the men, women and children across our service area who live their lives in uncertainty. These donors have allowed us to rise to the challenge and not turn away hungry families even when faced with double-digit increases in demand on a monthly basis. Our supporters have allowed us to provide an answer for one of the many questions our clients face daily: What will we eat tonight?

Saying thank you seems too small, too little, but in this season of gratitude and thanksgiving, we want to do just that. Thank you to every person who has embraced our mission through your time, treasure or talents and helped to provide hope to our neighbors in need — not just at the holidays but every day of the year.