HAZEL GREEN, Ky. — This past week, nearly 30 million Americans saw a reduction in SNAP/food stamp benefits as the federal government is ending most pandemic-era assistance.
In eastern Kentucky, a local food pantry is receiving national attention for the line of cars it draws every month and that need could soon grow.
Twice a month, the Hazel Green Food Project distributes food to Kentuckians in need — helping people in at least 16 different counties. The need is so great that people start lining up on the side of the highway as early as 4 a.m.
On the second and fourth Friday of every month, Kernie Roark has a morning routine. “I usually get here about 7:30 a.m. That is when I was here this morning,” Roark said.
Roark waits in a line of cars for a 1:00 p.m. food giveaway at the Hazel Green Food Project. It’s a 20-mile drive for Roark and hours spent waiting in his car.
“15 minutes or less after they start to drive through the line, which where I’m located now is about 20 cars back, I’ll be back out on the road headed back home. So they really done a job like a duck on a June bug getting people through the line, serviced and back on the road,” Roark said.
Roark, like many Americans, has felt the effects of rising grocery costs and food pantries like the one in Hazel Green alleviate some of the financial stress.
“It really makes a daylight and dark difference of starvation for people that’s hungry,” Roark said. “Prices have got so high that people are saving hard, trying to go to dollar stores where they can buy something a little cheaper and stretch their food stamps.”
As the pandemic-era benefits end for SNAP and food stamp recipients, the reliance on the Hazel Green Food Pantry could continue to grow.
“Seems like there’s many every week now. I come about 7:00 a.m. Been sitting here four hours,” said recipient Violet Fannin.
Fannin passes the time cross stitching in her car. Once the food distribution begins, the wait is worth it.
“Oh yeah, it’s worth a lot to me. If you don’t have to pay as much for your groceries and you’re on a fixed income, it really helps,” she said.
The project started two years ago after floods ravaged the area and much of eastern Kentucky.
“Neighbors helping neighbors, that’s what we do,” said President of Hazel Green Food Project Nicky Stacy.
Stacy and the many volunteers rely solely on donations and sponsors with no help from the state.
“Our biggest sponsors are the Christian Appalachian Project and God’s Foodbank in Lexington,” Stacy said.
Stacy said it’s sad to see their line grow every giveaway, but the recipients are her inspiration to keep going.
“We all know each other and as you see when they come through the line, people in the cars will holler at them, and ask how they’re doing and ask how their mom’s doing. Everybody here is just one big family,” Stacy said.
Roark says he and others will keep coming as long as it’s still going.
“What they’ve got going here has really made a difference of keeping thousands of people from starving,” Roark said.
The pantry is a no questions asked service. All you need is your name, number of people in your household and the county you live in.
Hazel Green Food Project is located at 1225 Kentucky 205 in Hazel Green, with giveaways every second and fourth Friday of every month.
It’s about 40 miles south of Morehead.