NEW LEXINGTON — While families prepared for a fun night with friends and family for Thanksgiving, some members of the community took the initiative to help assist others in preparing their Thanksgiving dinners. At the Perry County Fairgrounds, several locals sat in their cars patiently as they waited to receive food for Thanksgiving.
“We’ve been conducting food truck distributions for almost four years now,” New Lexington City School District Director of Operations David Rupe told The Perry County Tribune. “We started to evaluate food insecurity within the community and our county… in research, Southeast Ohio Foodbank said that they would be able to meet that need.”
The Southeast Ohio Foodbank hosted the food distribution that took place at the Perry County Fairgrounds. On Wednesday morning prior to Thanksgiving, locals in Perry County woke up extra early in order to be first in line for the donated meals.
In year’s past, roughly 12,000 to 14,000 pounds of food was donated and sent to the Perry County Fairgrounds prior to Thanksgiving. Rupe stated that the large amount of food usually gets spread between approximately 200 families who show up to the food distribution.
At this year’s Thanksgiving food distribution, around 18,000 pounds of food was donated and distributed to local families in need of food for the family and community oriented holiday.
The Southeast Ohio Foodbank has been working with the New Lexington City School District for the past four years for its food donation distribution. In the past, roughly 200 families showed up, sometimes at the break of dawn, to be the first in line to get food items. The purpose of programs, such as the New Lexingtons Thanksgiving distribution, is to address food insecurity needs in the area.
The school district offers food programs such as summer meals, Blessings in a Backpack and free and reduced breakfast and lunch for all students. This distribution was just another way the schools can help give back to the community that has supported them throughout the years.
The New Lexington City School District provides several programs aimed to help students who live within the guidelines of food insecurity. Four years ago, staff at the New Lexington school district pondered what else it could do to help not just its own students, but the families who are also affected by food insecurity.
The New Lexington City School District plans its food distribution with the help and guidance of the Southeast Ohio Foodbank. The school district contacted the food bank in order to properly schedule when the food can be delivered to a desired location, in this case, the Perry County Fairgrounds.
The Southeast Ohio Foodbank is a program under the Hocking Athens Perry Community Action Plan (HAPCAP). The HAPCAP food bank is one of 196 Second Harvest Regional Food banks throughout the United States and Puerto Rico as it is affiliated with Fooding America, a national organization.
“The Southeast Ohio Foodbank is one of our partners and suppliers for the food truck distribution,” Rupe explained. “We reached out to the Southeast Ohio Foodbank to discuss dates for food truck distribution held at the Perry County Fairgrounds.”
The Southeastern Ohio Foodbank is a warehouse affair which receives surplus food donations from the government, other major food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. Once food is collected, it is distributed to charitable organizations throughout 10 counties in Southeastern Ohio.
Charitable entities can either have food delivered to specific locations of it can be picked up. Food donations are used to help many programs who are geared towards assisting the elderly, disabled and children who struggle with food insecurity.
The Southeastern Ohio Foodbank provides food services to areas including Athens, Hocking, Lawrence, Morgan, Vinton, Gallia, Jackson, Meigs, Perry and Washington counties.
The New Lexington School District also contacted the Perry County Fairground staff in order to reserve space in order to avoid conflicting events. Through social media advertising and widespread communication with over 2,000 residents in the school district, families gathered on Wednesday around noon to be the first in line.
“We do an all-call notification leading up to the food distribution,” Rupe stated. “We try to reach out to the roughly over 2,000 families that are connected with our all-call system for the school district.”
The school district also notified local law enforcement to make sure all procedures went smoothly.
As local residents waited in their cars, several volunteers were seen approaching cars gathering information for food distribution. More than one family could be in one vehicle at a time as some drivers came prepared with vans cleared with plenty of space. Community members had to prove their county of residence as well as income eligibility.
Certain amounts of food were given to each family that showed up. Food items such as potatoes, apples, peanuts and other Thanksgiving foods were donated and spread to over 200 families on Wednesday.
In an effort to save time and frustration, volunteers conducted a drive-thru process for families getting food. Drivers passed through one lane slowly as volunteers scurried to get all the necessary food inside the next vehicle. As the wind made its presence felt, so did each volunteer.
“The drive-thru experience is pretty timely,” Rupe commented. “It usually takes about a solid hour, maybe an hour and a half, to distribute that amount of food to 200 families in vehicles — it makes it very easy.”
Those who took time on Wednesday to volunteer for the food distribution came from several different local entities and public agencies. According to Rupe, those who volunteered came from local churches, local food pantries, local non-profits, school staff and faculty and the New Lexington Police Department. Some employees from Ludowici Roof Tile were also helping during the food distribution.
The issue of food insecurity is no stranger to those living within Perry County. For the last four years, local community leaders and entities have taken it upon themselves to combat the recurring issue.
“It’s a pleasure to be a part of giving back to a community that we all love and live in,” Rupe said. “We just thank the good Lord every day that he’s able to give us the ability to provide — we want to be there for our people.”