BY KELLY RODAMER
Sweet Owen Guest Contributor
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” When John Wesley spoke these words over 200 years ago, he likely didn’t recognize the eternal impact they would have.
For Barry and Thelma McCormick, there is no limit to the ways and means in which they can do good and help others, especially when it comes to providing food security for up to 200 families each week who need a hand up during uncertain times in their lives.
As the Owenton Rotary Club’s 2023 Owen Countians of the Year, the McCormicks have been recognized for their impact on Owen County. But their reach stretches far beyond the 354 square miles that make up the county lines.
Since 2018, the McCormicks have faithfully operated Food From the Heart, a food pantry, out of their home.
“It all started when I was trying to find local resources to help out a family member,” Thelma said. “It turned out she made $9 a month too much to receive help. Only $9. It didn’t seem right. We decided to do something about it. People shouldn’t go without because someone else has decided they make too much money.”
With that, Food From the Heart was born. What started as a small pantry operating out of the McCormick’s basement has become a twice-a-week pantry offering food staples such as shelf-stable items, fresh produce, dairy, meat, and more. Guests from nine counties in northern and central Kentucky frequent the pantry, which operates from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays or by appointment.
Because of the positive response from the community, many renovations have been made to expand what the pantry offers.
“It started with just a small part of the basement,” Barry explained. “Now we’ve taken over our old cistern, a bedroom, and built a refrigerator room. But it’s because we tell everyone that if we can get it, we will share it. It’s not in our nature to turn people away.”
While most families stop at the pantry during scheduled hours, the McCormicks understand not everyone can make it in the two-hour timeframe the pantry is staffed with volunteers.
“My phone doesn’t stop,” Thelma said. “All day I’m getting messages and phone calls. Life happens, so sometimes our regulars can’t make it during our scheduled hours. We do our best to make sure no one goes hungry.”
To ensure as many families as possible receive food, guests are asked to try and come during the scheduled hours when volunteers are available and to bring an empty box to fill up. In exchange, the volunteers who keep the pantry running smoothly greet guests with a smile, food, and conversation.
“We don’t just offer food,” Thelma continued. “We offer a conversation and a place to socialize. And we do it all while protecting the dignity of the people who come by. We operate differently than other pantries. Everyone tells us that. We don’t need to know all the details, just how many people we’re helping you feed and what county you’re from.”
To keep the pantry operating with the goal to make food easily accessible to as many as possible, the McCormicks have built a small but mighty army of volunteers to help with the operation.
“It started with just family helping,” Thelma said. “My mother-in-law loves to help and catch up with people while we fill their boxes. We see a lot of seniors come as much for the social interaction as they do for the food.”
Kentucky has the fourth-highest food insecurity rate among older adults in the U.S. By offering a pantry that allows and promotes building relationships among guests and volunteers, the McCormicks are doing their part in growing a community and satisfying more than a physical hunger among a mostly-isolated population.
However, more than seniors benefit from volunteering and building relationships through Food From The Heart.
“We have young people that come and help us,” Barry said. “Real good kids. We’ve got a set of siblings that we see regularly who really enjoy their time here.”
Roughly half a dozen smiling faces can be found at Food From the Heart on Tuesdays and Fridays. The rest of the week, it’s up to Thelma and Barry, though they’ll call for backup if needed. It’s often the volunteers who end up more blessed than the guests at the end of the night.
Because Food From the Heart operates almost entirely on donations and generosity from the community, the McCormicks make sure their volunteers know just how much they appreciate them. Barry stocks the refrigerator room with special drinks that he knows each volunteer likes and will fire up the grill to offer a hot dog meal for volunteers and guests alike. Thelma will note their birthdays and ensure they have a special treat when they come to help.
And that’s just the beginning of what makes Food From the Heart such a magical place to be.
“What makes us different is that we don’t just offer the food from the pantry,” Thelma explained. “We provide food for local churches when they’re hosting vacation Bible school, special events, or funerals. We bring food to the fair workers each year. If you have a need for food for anything, we want to make sure you have it. We want to make sure no family goes hungry.”
The McCormicks feel blessed to have grown this much in such a short period of time. But with growth comes growing pains. They’ve recently received a truck that operates a lift gate, making food pickup much easier and faster. A retaining wall must be built, and a paved driveway must be installed to use the truck. A vegetable stand is in the works.
“We have big plans for Food From the Heart,” Thelma said. “But a lot of it comes from our own pockets, so we do what we can when we can.”
“We do a lot of the work ourselves and with our friends,” Barry adds. “We know how to stretch a dollar so it helps the most people.”
The McCormicks embrace the growing pains with open arms and eager anticipation. For each time they need to expand, it means they’re truly doing all the good they can, by all the means they can, in all the ways they can, in all the places they can, at all the times they can, to all the people they can, for however long they can.