Feeding Lexington... Mind, Body and Soul

Donna Ison


In the words of writer Virginia Woolf, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Aside from nutrition being necessary for daily function, dining well serves a deeper purpose. A warm meal brings comfort, conversation and communion. In these trying times, it is more important than ever to be nourished in all ways. In Central Kentucky, existing organizations have mobilized and incredible initiatives have emerged to supply sustenance and comfort to central Kentucky’s food insecure population, front line workers and unemployed restaurant staff.

In Central Kentucky, existing organizations have mobilized and incredible initiatives have emerged to supply sustenance and comfort to central Kentucky’s food insecure population, front line workers and unemployed restaurant staff.

As they have been doing for the past 65 years, God’s Pantry Food Bank is making sure that Kentuckians have access to nutritious food. According to their website, “The mission of God’s Pantry Food Bank is to reduce hunger in Kentucky through community cooperation, making the best possible use of all available resources.” Serving as both a food pantry and food bank, they provide direct hunger relief to individuals, while also collecting and distributing food to hunger relief organizations in 50 counties throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky.

In these challenging times, God’s Pantry Food Bank (a member of Feeding America) has seen a significant increase in need statewide. Every county served some first-time clients while certain areas saw a rise of as much as 80%. Here in Lexington, they averaged 1,000 pick ups per week, doubling the number prior to the coronavirus outbreak. In April alone, they served 4,869 individuals.

To meet safety concerns, God’s Pantry has implemented masks and additional sanitation procedures within their warehouse and limited “shopping” within the pantries, instead providing pre-packed food boxes. According to Community Engagement & Communications Manager Misty Beard, “Everyone has stepped up to get food in the hands of the people who need it, in the safest way possible.” 

Another organization joining the effort is Feed the Front Line Kentucky (FTFL-KY), which defines itself as a “nonprofit organization established by a group of students and young professionals who take pride in the state of Kentucky and want to serve the dedicated healthcare workers and local restaurants who have been affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic.” FTFL-KY does this through collecting donations from individuals and corporations, using these funds to buy meals from locally-owned restaurants, and then providing the meals to our front line healthcare workers.

Brian Zhu, a computer science major at Georgia Tech and one of the founding members of the local chapter, explained, “We first heard about Feed the Front Line from my brother, Michael Zhu. One of his former colleagues works with the Charlotte division. From there it was about establishing connections with hospitals and restaurants, as well as setting up our online presence. Our core mission is twofold: support local restaurants and their employees by purchasing bulk meal orders and support front line workers by providing them with free meals.”

Realizing every moment and meal counts, the team mobilized with surprising speed, going from filing nonprofit status to their first delivery in under eight days. “As of Friday, May 8th, we’ve delivered over 600 meals to healthcare workers at Good Samaritan, Chandler Hospital, the St. Joseph Hospitals and others with meals from Vinaigrette, DV8 Kitchen, Great Bagel, Pie 5 and other restaurants,” stated Zhu. 

Even with the efforts to support local eateries, many of the city’s restaurant workers found themselves without a paycheck overnight. Seeing the need of this critically affected group, the Restaurant Workers Relief Program (RWRP) was launched by The LEE Initiative. Founded by Chef Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek, the Louisville-based initiative was established to “come up with fast and forward-thinking solutions to address problems in the restaurant industry.”

Dan Wu, local chef and owner of Atomic Ramen, and his LEXunite.com team brought RWRP to Lexington. Wu said, “As we were in the early planning stages, Sam Fore had already been working with The LEE Initiative and got us connected to be an outpost of their RWRP. We got the grant money from Maker’s Mark on a Sunday and we were up and running, feeding folks by Thursday night.”

Wu added, “Maker’s Mark provided the generous seed money and we’ve been continually supported by local individual donors, as well as organizations like Blue Accounting and Blue Grass Community Foundation.”

From March to May, the initiative handed out nearly 12,000 hot meals through their relief center at Boston Road Great Bagel. In addition, essentials such as toilet paper, canned goods and infant necessities were available for pick up nightly.

All three organizations agree that in the process of feeding others, their souls have been fed through seeing the kindness and charitableness of our community. 

Wu stated, “I’ve been awed and humbled by the generosity of time, money and resources people have put into this effort. I’m also gonna brag on my fellow small business owners because we know how to hustle and do a lot with very little. And to do it fast!”

Zhu echoed this sentiment. “I have personally learned how giving everyone is. From our launch, we have had support pouring in. From donations to support online, I see so many people that recognize they have something to give during these times,” he said. “I have also seen how dedicated our team members are. All of our team members are either working or in school full time, and still find the time to give it their all.”

If you want to help, the best thing you can do is donate at the websites listed below. Your monetary contributions are needed in a multitude of ways. As just one example, God’s Pantry Food Bank has 14 trucks that travel upwards of a thousand miles to deliver food, and they need fuel for each of these journeys.

In closing, Wu eloquently encapsulates the most important lesson from the current situation: “In times of crisis, we’re all better off taking care of each other than just looking out for ourselves. And we can’t always rely on the powers-that-be to help us out of situations; we have to create the solutions ourselves.”