The Emergency Community Food Pantry is celebrating its 40th anniversary Tuesday, and it’s doing so quietly.

“Because of COVID we’re not really planning anything,” Food Pantry President Regina Wink-Swinford said. "We don’t think we can safely do anything.

“Just thanking people and working hard.”

That’s what the food pantry has been doing for 40 years.

In the past 10 years, according to a release from the food pantry, more than 1,710,000 meals have been distributed to those experiencing hunger.

The pantry is run entirely by volunteers. Partner organizations take requests for food assistance, and the Resource Office for Social Ministries (ROSM) vets the requests.

The requests are then sent to the food pantry, where volunteers bag the food. The partner organizations are notified and make sure the food gets to the people who make the requests.

COVID made a difference in how the food pantry worked, but in an unexpected way.

“It seemed the people we were helping were working people,” Wink-Swinford said. “With SNAP or increased unemployment benefits, our numbers actually went down.”

That didn’t mean less work for the food pantry. It meant different ways to meet the needs of the community.

One was with Backpack Snacks, which provides children non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to make sure they have enough food on weekends and holidays.

“With the Backpack Snack we’re sending home a small meal once a month, and we’re including information they can have on hand if they need it,” Wink-Swinford said.

“Backpack Snacks are really small individual meals, and we send small family meals. This month is was sauce, spaghetti and fruit. It’s a small meal a family can share, and we send information to let them know what’s available to them if they need to get some groceries.”

The pantry is also working with the Missions Clinic and Franklin County Health Department, providing food bags to give to anyone currently in need.

There’s also a program for people with health issues such as diabetes and hypertension.

“A lot of our shelf-stable products are not good for people with different health conditions,” Wink-Swinford said.

People with certain health issues may be given a voucher to be used at Save A Lot for any food they may need.

“We partnered with the Farmers Market during the growing season,” Wink-Swinford said, “and families with children 17 and younger could get a voucher for fresh vegetables to supplement what we’ve given them.”

The pantry also had a produce drop-off this summer in South Frankfort, and anyone who came was given fresh produce.

Wink-Swinford has been working with the food pantry for about 10 years.

“I started out as a volunteer,” she said. “I was homeschooling my son at the time, and we’d go once a month, and it wasn’t very long I was going more.

“If you show up enough you’ll be on the board,” Wink-Swinford said with a laugh, “and if you’re not careful, next thing you know you’ll be president.”

Wink-Swinford is in her third year as president and will be transitioning out in May. Jonathan Vaught is the president elect.

There are 14 members on the pantry’s board.

“The board is all volunteers, and everyone is doing something,” Wink-Swinford said. “No one is there to have it on their resumé. It’s an amazing board.”

The partner organizations that accept food applications for anyone in Frankfort and Franklin County are Buck Run Baptist Church, Capital City Christian Church, First Christian Church, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Memorial Baptist Church, Point Community Church, the Salvation Army and the Simon House.

Anyone in need of food may contact one of these partners to be connected with the food pantry’s services.

With COVID-related eviction moratoriums ending, Wink-Swinford said the number of those seeking assistance may increase.

“They may have to decide if they’ll buy food or pay rent,” she said.

“There’s no way to know, but numbers seem to be creeping up,” Wink-Swinford added. “It’s crazy. One day we’ll have two orders, and the next day we’ll have 13, but it feels like the numbers are creeping back up.”

According to the release from the food pantry, the food distributed is paid for by donations and grants, donated by local farmers, and collected from local food businesses.

It’s a network that’s worked well for the Emergency Community Food Pantry.

“This is a very generous community,” Wink-Swinford said, “and they’ve really given to us.”

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