By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
There’s a lot of need in Carter County.
“You just can’t imagine the number of people out there… and the number of children that are food insecure,” said Bethany House director Judy Roark.
Her organization is serving upwards of 400 families each month. Not 400 individuals, she emphasized, but families; and it’s growing every day.
“This morning we took in two more,” she said, explaining that they processed their applications, but that no one really ever gets turned away. The needs are too great, and they don’t want any children to go hungry.
But it’s not cheap, feeding all those people. Even with donations, Roark said, they usually spend several hundred dollars on canned goods each month. But recently they’ve not had to spend that money out of pocket, thanks to a fundraiser organized through Carter County Tourism.
That fundraiser, which featured locally raised, Kentucky Proud produce – from eggs and meat to vegetables, jellies, and preserves – has been a real blessing for the organization, Roark said.
“Oh my goodness gracious! I think it was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever attended,” Roarks said enthusiastically. “It was beautiful. The food was outstanding. The crowd was great.”
They were also generous.
In addition to more than $2,500 raised through ticket sales for the event, the organization took in several private donations. In fact, Roark said, people are still reaching out to help after learning about Bethany House and their mission thanks to the breakfast.
“We still have people offering donations from the breakfast,” Roark said, adding that she “can’t thank tourism enough” for their help.
“It took a lot of local people, providing a lot of local food… and it has meant so much for Bethany House,” Roark said. “They (need) to know the importance of what they’ve done for us. It really is amazing.”
Kara Johnson, with Carter County Tourism, said the idea grew out of food related events her church held. They had held supper club benefits for Bethany House and Project Merry Christmas, she explained, “(and) when we were talking about new things that we wanted to do through Carter County Tourism, that’s where we got the idea.”
She said the idea of making it a farm to table event, highlighting locally produced food items, fit with Carter County Tourisms mission to promote the county and what is has to offer visitors. It’s one they will likely consider again, she said, given the success of this event
“It’s a good benefit for whatever project we’re donating the money for, but it’s also a good way to expose our local farmers and our local farmers market (to visitors),” Johnson said.
They sourced their menu items through the local agricultural extension agency, and the staff at Carter Caves prepared the food.
“We worked with Rebecca (Konopka) at the Carter County Extension Office,” Johnson explained. “She gave us a list.”
From there they began calling local farms for meat and eggs, and when they couldn’t find enough eggs, Carter Caves stepped in.
“Of course we couldn get enough eggs for as many people as we had, but Carter Caves has a local source for eggs, and for flour, and the other items we couldn’t get,” Johnson said. “So it’s still local or a Kentucky Proud product.”
Even the decorations were locally sourced.
“We had flowers from one of our local farms. We had everything that we could get local,” Johnson said.
It was so successful, in fact, that they’re already planning another event for the fall, to explore other seasonal produce.
“The response was excellent,” Johnson said. “We sold 150 tickets and several people sent donations to Bethany House.”
“There’s such a need for people to have food, to supplement what they’re able to buy,” Johnson continued. “People with fixed incomes. People with small children, that don’t fit into the criteria for government assistance. The folks that slip through the cracks.”
But thanks to Bethany House, she noted, “they get to get excellent produce. They get to get canned goods. They have meat. That’s covered for them, and it makes a huge difference.”
For Roark, it was a blessing all around.
She said she needed to express a “deep appreciation to the Carter County Tourism Board,” for including them in their farm to table event.
“We’re so thankful that there are people in Carter County who care enough to help their neighbors,” Roark said. “I’m just so thrilled to live in a county where people are that concerned about their neighbors.”
Both Roark and Johnson also extended their thanks to the staff of Carter Caves for helping them pull off the event.
“Carter Caves, they did an excellent job,” Johnson said. “They were so excited about this. They were just excited to do a big, outside, buffet breakfast for the people who bought tickets.”
And their work definitely made an impact on the visitors, Roarks added.
“When you dropped over that hill and saw that huge table, it was wonderful,” she said. “They really did a bang up job.”
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