A tornado destroyed the only food pantry in Magoffin County in 2012, and church member Ladale Stephens would say that was when God provided an opportunity for Water into Wine Food Pantry to fill the void.
“I told them that our small church just wasn’t big enough for the vision that God had given me,” Stephens said. The long-time resident of Salyersville, Ky. had for many years reminded her church, Lakefront Church of God, that God had more in store for them.
When the old Middle Fork Elementary School came up for sale, she knew it was time for the church to trust in God’s vision for their future. Lakefront Church of God relocated to the renovated space in 2012. Its outreach ministries grew to include a health clinic, thrift store, job training center, as well as the Water into Wine Food Pantry.
“Magoffin County is among the poorest counties in the country,” said Val Inzer, di¬rector of the food pantry. “When the only food pantry in the county was destroyed, we opened Water into Wine as a response to the widespread destruction.”
Lakefront has been a community partner with Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) Operation Sharing for more than 10 years. They receive goods that are utilized by a variety of ministries at the church including household and healthcare items, furniture, and building supplies.
CAP’s longstanding relationship with Lakefront through its Operation Sharing Program positioned the two organizations to expand their partnership in 2017. Although CAP has operated the Grateful Bread Food Pantry in Rockcastle County since 2007, CAP was seeking opportunities to address hunger insecurity in other Appalachian counties.
“It had been a plan for CAP to open another food pantry or partner with a local organization and we are pleased to see this partnership move forward,” said Anita Seals, vice president of CAP’s human service programs. Seals and others reached out to Chuck Young, community developer with God’s Pantry Food Bank in Lexington, to assess where the need was greatest. Young identified Magoffin since they had only one food pantry in the entire county.
Young elaborated, “The volunteers at Water into Wine serve over 500 families a month. They were doing awesome work, but they had limited resources. I was sure that a partnership with CAP would help provide additional assistance to increase much needed services in Magoffin County.”
Seals also understands the benefits of the partnership. “We are excited about the partnership and look forward to helping Water into Wine extend the impact of the pantry and its ability to meet the needs of children, their families, and seniors living with food insecurity in the county.”
Inzer agreed, “The partnership with CAP has helped us in¬crease the variety of goods we provide through the pantry and increase the number of items we have to give away.”
Christian Appalachian Project provided more than financial resources. Several of CAP’s long-term volunteers assisted with renovation of the facility. Staff who have managed CAP’s pantry for over a decade assisted with strategic planning and logistics. Operation Sharing helped coordinate and transport goods.
“Sometimes we would spend hours on the road driving as far away as Lexington and Morehead to pick up pro¬duce and meat,” Inzer recalled. “Since we didn’t have a forklift, we would have to unload about 30,000 pounds of food by hand roughly three times a week.”
Thanks to their partnership with CAP, Water into Wine received a Community Grant which funded the entire renovation of their existing pantry, including a loading dock. Jeff Tackett, community outreach and admissions coordinator at the pantry, secured additional funding for coolers. The pantry can now provide dairy products to their clients. Paul Marsillett, a friend of the pantry, coordinated the donation of a forklift from Back’s Plumbing in Nicholasville, Ky. which was towed to Salyersville by LeMaster Towing at no charge.
Modernizing the food bank also required new thinking. Although cell phones might not seem like important equipment, Tackett, who also oversees communication for the pantry, saw their potential. He capitalized on a federal government program that provided cell phones to residents in low-income areas in order to help distribute essential information to participants.
“We can do all of our registrations online and schedule pickups of emergency food items,” said Tackett, who uses the cell phone system to send out mass text mes¬sages when fresh produce and meat arrive at the pantry.
“It has helped us communicate our mission to the community and to be better stewards over what we receive. When people buy into that mission, it helps us expand our impact.”
Another partner agency that has helped Water into Wine is Farms to Food Banks. They provide fresh, healthy produce at no cost to Kentuckians in need through the food bank network. During the summer months, Water into Wine was able to utilize commu-nity partners to get the produce where it was needed most. Farms to Food Banks obtains food from Water into Wine and then delivers to churches that take the produce to their local communities.
“One of our satellite partners is Kernie Free Will Baptist Church which is west of Salyersville,” Tackett commented. “Recently, a deacon from Kernie picked up produce and drove up and down the road to deliver food and visit with residents as he did so. Satellite distribution allows the food to make it into remote communities so that those in need do not have to travel so far for assistance.”
On any given distribution day, the pantry has about 30 volunteers that show up from the church and the community to serve their neighbors. They have a tradition that keeps them connected to each other and their work.
“When you come, there is work to do here all the time,” said Vicky Fletcher, pantry treasurer. “When you’re doing inventory during the week, you can sometimes forget how great the need is in the community. When we do distribution, we shut down for an hour for our lunch break. It’s important to us to have time to break bread together. It has brought us closer together and reminds us of our mission to serve the least of these.”