God’s Pantry Cutting Food Waste and Bringing Hope to Many
Food on the Move
In 1955 Mim Hunt saw hunger as an issue in the Lexington community, and in an effort to help began distributing food out of the basement of her home. Sixty-one years later, her humble effort has grown into God’s Pantry Food Bank, delivering over 27 million pounds of food annually to 190,000 people across 50 counties in Kentucky. With five warehouse locations in central and eastern Kentucky— Lexington, Winchester, Prestonsburg, London and Morehead— God’s Pantry is more of a food distribution network than it is a food bank. Serving a 16,000-square-mile area, the nonprofit works with 300 partner agencies that distribute groceries, meals and snacks: food pantries, shelters or nonprofits that have “low income—food” as a part of their mission.
Diverting food from landfills is another goal for God’s Pantry, accomplished by collecting many items from the food industry, such as new product entries that have failed, seasonal items whose season has passed and food that may have an ingredient error in conflict with the brand’s image. Other examples include tired produce that still has life, and canned goods or boxes that are dented but still safe.
The amount of food being salvaged and redirected is staggering: Each year 29.9 million pounds of food is redirected from dumpsters and landfills. Food is sourced from a broad mix of resources. The three top donors (over 1 million pounds) include Kentucky Association of Food Banks (see sidebar page 29), U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wal-Mart. Over 34 farms, food manufacturing and food sourcing businesses, stores and other food banks donate the majority of food. Only about 5% of the food is purchased, to help fill specific needs. The main goal, and biggest challenge, is offering healthy options. In 2015, fresh fruits and vegetables accounted for 36% of God’s Pantry distribution, and 19% came from canned fruits.
With such a complex distribution system, moving fresh produce is key. According to outgoing executive director Marian Guinn, when God’s Pantry knows fresh food is arriving, trucks are dispatched as soon as possible, sometimes with daily stops instead of the weekly rounds. Years of experience has helped the nonprofit waste less than 3% of food in the distribution process.
Billy Van Pelt is American Farmland Trust’s director of external relations in the Southeast. He also serves on the God’s Pantry Food Bank board of directors.
MARIAN GUINN: 19 YEARS OF FOOD SERVICE!
When Marian Guinn stepped into the executive director role 19 years ago, God’s Pantry was distributing 5 million pounds of food to partner agencies in 48 counties in central and eastern Kentucky. Thanks to her efforts, the Lexington food bank has grown almost 500%, last year delivering 29.9 million pounds of food to 50 counties in central and eastern Kentucky.
According to her peers, Guinn has been a tireless advocate for the hungry, serving in every role: chief executive officer, coach, cheerleader and tireless employee for two decades. “Improving health in central and eastern Kentucky with health care and healthy food for healthy lives” has been Guinn’s motto and the legacy she leaves behind.