Regional agencies boost efforts to combat Western Kentucky food shortfall

Mayfield, KY – In October, the federal Census Bureau reported Kentucky's poverty rate at 17.3 percent. That's 4 points higher than the national average. With many families in western Kentucky struggling to pay for housing, focus on proper nutrition can fall to the wayside. An increased need for food assistance has prompted agencies in the region to step up efforts to help feed the hungry. Angela Hatton reports.

On a sunny fall morning, Jason Sanderson backs up his refrigerated delivery truck to a receiving dock at the Murray Walmart. Five days a week, he makes his rounds to regional Walmart and Kroger stores to pick up food donations. Sanderson works for the Purchase Area Development District, or PADD, which partners with the Feeding America program to gather soon-to-expire-food and distribute it to needy families.

"We head to the cooler and freezer and pick up a variety of meats and breads. They try they freeze it a day before it's supposed to be used by. That way, it's not going to be out of date or anything like that."

Sanderson loads the boxes of frozen food onto a palate along with some ripe produce. He runs a roll of plastic wrap around the load to keep it from shifting around. Then he wheels it onto the loading dock and into the truck.

The PADD coordinates food assistance with 35 distribution points in the Purchase counties. Food Bank Coordinator Deana Burkeen says that includes three recently added distribution points, one of them in Fulton County where no food bank existed before. Speaking from the development district's food warehouse, Burkeen says the organization has increased food distribution efforts in the last five months following a financial jolt from stimulus funds.

"I usually distribute the emergency food assistance program every quarter, but now I'm having to do it every month because our warehouse can't hold it."

PADD oversees a variety of food assistance programs of which the emergency food assistance program is one. It provides emergency nutrition to low-income or unemployed people and the elderly. Burkeen says many of the people who come to the agencies for food assistance have jobs, but they're budgets are overstrained.

"It's not making it with the medical bills and all the other bills. They just don't have enough for the fo--and the food costs has gone up as everyone knows. And some of it is just the recent layoffs. They're made it so long and they just can't make it any longer. You've seen fathers come in that are, that are just, just cryin' because they're having to come get help, but they've never had to have help before, but now they are."

Burkeen says recent surveys show the PADD region is feeding 700 more people this year than they were at the same time last year. Burkeen admits it's a struggle in some areas to keep food bank shelves stocked. She says they're always accepting donations. However, with help from grocery store corporations through Feeding America, Burkeen has a few more positive stories to tell.

"Not too long ago, we gave a cake out to this little boy who said, It's my mommy's birthday.' And we actually got to see the mother and she was just crying and it was his only present for her was that birthday cake. We take things like that for granted."

In October alone, PADD gave out close to 60,000 pounds of food and served well over four thousand families. If state economic predictions are right, that client number won't be going down any time soon. The Kentucky Consensus Forecasting Group reports while the nation may be easing out of the recession, the state isn't. Forecasters look to 2011 before revenue begins to grow again. Burkeen says in the short term at least, stimulus money will bolster the food banks. She says they're set to receive food above normal deliveries through April and she expects the extra supplies to last through June.