Ashland Community Kitchen provides help to those in need

ASHLAND, Ky. (AP) — Judith Little stood outside The Neighborhood in Ashland on Thursday, waiting for a ride back to her apartment. She had come specifically to the Ashland Community Kitchen, with the hope of getting one of the boxes of food it gives out once a month. She was not disappointed, and said that all of the people she has met at The Neighborhood are good people and very helpful.

“I get their food boxes every time I can,” Little said. “They are real good about it, and they have a thing going on about seniors. If you are a senior, they have senior boxes with a lot of food in them. They have helped me a lot,” Little said. “And I come over here and eat during the week when they serve food, too,” she said.

Little said the food boxes go a long way for her toward helping ends meet. She has lived in Ashland for five years, and for the first six months of that time she was homeless, she said. But the network of organizations at The Neighborhood has helped her overcome that.

“Without them I would be on the streets,” she said. “But they helped me get an apartment, and helped with other things. They have been really good for me,” Little said. “God works in mysterious ways, and you have to have faith.”

Dr. Desmond Barrett, executive director of the kitchen, said the community box program was born from a desire to help families and those who are struggling to help make ends meet at the end of the month.

“In our program, we have been serving nearly 40 years in the soup kitchen, where we have been helping the homeless and anyone truly in need,” Barrett said. “And we have been serving three meals a day, five days a week. And recently, in September, we kicked off our senior box program.”

The senior box program is intended to help seniors in the community who are living in poverty, Barrett said.

“But in evaluating the needs in the community, we realized that there is a middle group. This group isn’t homeless, and they aren’t seniors living in poverty. This group is made up of single mothers, and families who are on limited income, and even individuals who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and are just struggling to get by,” Barrett said. “And they are those who are living on food stamps, but it just isn’t enough to get them through the month.”

“And so, the community box program is to help them secure food for families that might not necessarily be living in poverty, but they don’t have enough resources to purchase a meal,” Barrett said. “These boxes are supplemental in nature, so they are not going to feed a family for a whole month, but they are going to help them through those lean times,” Barrett said.

The difference between the community boxes and the senior boxes are, as Barrett explained, a question of services being or not being limited to a specific group. There is a finite number of boxes each month for the senior boxes, for instance, because it is through Facing Hunger (which is through the USDA Food Program), and there is a waiting list of qualifying seniors to receive them. The community boxes are regulated through the kitchen itself, and has both a broader availability and qualifying criteria. One immediate benefit is that seniors who have not made the list for a senior box can receive a community box instead.

“We are not going to turn anyone away,” Barrett said. “Because our mission is that no one goes hungry. Our goal is that 70 to 75% of the people we help be from Boyd County, but we recently helped an individual from Rowan County.”

When necessary they will put the person in need in touch with organizations in their own areas who provide similar services — but when that person leaves, it will only be after receiving a good meal. “We are a resource,” Barrett said. “And we know where the other resources are.”

This knowledge of available resources helps the kitchen and other similar organizations to provide an unbroken flow of services while preventing overlapping of services. “We feed people five days a week,” Barrett said. “But we also know that the Salvation Army (and other organizations) feeds people on the weekends. And this helps us to reach the goal of no one going a single day without something to eat.”

The requirements for the community boxes are simply being an individual in need. Food boxes are available on the second Thursday of each month, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Barrett said he hopes in the future to have mobile food boxes, where those in need who have trouble taking advantage of the programs can have their needs met as well. Anyone wishing to donate can donate food items to fill the boxes or money to a fund to purchase food.

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