By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Bethany House often get a lot of good donations for the people they serve. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Baked goods. Cheeses and butter. Dried beans. Trucks come in filled with food. They get a lot of different things, often seasonal items, they’re able to distribute. Except meat, directory Judy Roark noted. They always need more meat for families.
But on the day I stopped to talk with Roark and her volunteers, the truck was pitifully sparse. There were no commodities this time. There were some fresh veggies – tomatoes, watermelons, and potatoes – and a variety of baked goods.
The volunteers, moving with the efficiency of seasoned professionals, made quick work of the unloading and tucking away the food. They put tomatoes in a walk-in cooler, set the watermelon and potatoes aside in dry storage, and set to sorting the baked goods – a variety of cakes, breads, and bagels.
Even this process points to more needs at Bethany House, which serves more than 400 hungry people a month. If they got the big donations of meats and other perishable items they’d like to get more of, they might not have the space to store them. They only have one functioning cooler, and even that needs work. To get the other one up and running is a dream, volunteer Bill Perry said, but it would take tens of thousands of dollars to repair the compressor. That’s money the organization just doesn’t have. And, even if they did, they could find other ways to spend it.
Roark said they spent over $1,000 of their budget over the last couple months purchasing items for their clients they just couldn’t get for them otherwise.
The dedicated volunteers, though, don’t let the financial difficulties weigh on them. They know the needs are there in our communities, and they want to do what they can to help. Roark’s leadership plays a big part too, as well as the close friendships they’ve all developed over the years.
“The three of us, Louise (Stapleton), Vivian (Perry), and myself, we have known each other since birth,” explained Roark. “We live within a half mile of each other. We went all through school in a one-room school together. We was at each other’s homes all the time, played in the yard, and in the trees. Then when I got up here (at Bethany House), and these girls all went and did their things with their careers now and everything, and Vivian would stop by, after her husband passed, and she would leave a donation for us.”
From there Roark convinced her to volunteer, or as she phrased, “she finally broke down after a little bit, and here she is.”
“Louise was pretty much the same way,” Roark continued. “Pretty much anyone I know, I try to get them to come help us.”
Wilma Wells said she comes back every day, “just to help people.”
Roark said that was the mindset of all the volunteers.
“Everyone is here to help people,” she said. “There’s nobody here out to help themselves because it’s not a place here where you can do that.”
Considering the needs, the state of the facilities, and going over the budget and resources with Roark, that much goes without saying. But it’s an important point for her to make to point out the selflessness of her volunteers. These ladies and gentlemen truly want nothing more than to serve their community – whether that means unloading trucks of donated bread or organizing clothing in the free store they run inside the facility.
“It takes volunteers to do that,” Perry added. “Someone who’s not afraid of work. Everyone up here works, and works hard.”
Roark has seven volunteers on a consistent basis, with spouses, family, and others dropping in to help when they can. But they can always use more help, and more donations.
They all agree that, as much of a blessing as they have been able to provide to the community, those blessings have been returned to them through friendship and the sense of satisfaction they get from working together to do these things.
“It’s just a good network of people,” Pam Rayburn explained, from the volunteers at Bethany House the folks they work with through the Christian Appalachian Project and God’s Pantry. They’re all just good people, she said, trying to make a difference.
You can contact Bethany House at (606)286-5045, or you can also stop in, at 539 Hitchins Avenue, in Olive Hill. Bethany House has served the residents of Carter County continuously over the last four decades, since their founding in 1982.
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