Needs of small church’s food pantry expected to increase due to virus

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MAY'S LICK, Ky. (KT) - Jesus said this in Matthew 25:35: “ … for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; …”


For nearly 18 months, a Mason County congregation has been doing its best to apply that scripture. May's Lick Baptist Church's Jehovah Jireh House helps feed families in a 13-county area.


“It's a way to serve,” said Tom Saunders, a May's Lick member who spent last Saturday lifting boxes of frozen food.


Mays Lick Pastor Kevin Cornette said because Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered bars and restaurants to close their dining areas and recommended schools not reopen until at least April 20 – all in the wake of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic – the number of households Jehovah Jireh helps could rise to around 800, or up to some 3,000 people.


The monthly food distribution takes place each third Saturday. Customers line up in shifts according to the first letter of their last names (Debbie Hilterbrand says the order rotates so all customers have a chance to be first.)


Usually, people take a grocery cart, go into the church gym, fill their baskets and load the food into their vehicles.


Coronavirus altered – but did not stop –  the Saturday proceedings. What you'd have seen was an assembly line so efficient, Henry Ford would've loved it had he been alive.


After Cornette led a prayer and volunteers loaded carts with boxes of food that had been prepared earlier in the week.


Volunteers then put the carts in customers' cars – drivers stayed in their vehicles. Cornette, who directed traffic, said everyone who handled food wore gloves and used hand sanitizer, with those who loaded boxes adding masks.


The workers had an expansive age range. There was the 71-year-old Ronnie Hilterbrand running a forklift, and 12-year-old Tatiana Barker of Flemingsburg toting grocery bags with her brother Seth, 10.


At one point, Tatiana Barker lifted paper bags of food overhead, kind of like World's Strongest Woman Bethany Smith of England might heft a couple of 100-pound kettlebells. Saturday wasn't Seth's first distribution.


“I haven't missed one of them yet,” he said.


May's Lick members Ronnie and Debbie Hilterbrand named the ministry after Jehovah-Jireh, one of God's attributes listed in Genesis 22:14: “And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”


“The Holy Spirit led me to start the food distribution,” Debbie Hilterbrand said. “We prayed about it, and after much prayer … the Lord led the preacher to agree with it.”


The magnitude of the need surprised Cornette. “Very shocked,” he said. “We knew that there were needs locally in our community, but we never realized there would be a service area of (13) counties.”


Cornette said Jehovah Jireh House serves approximately 650 households, or around 2,500 people, at each monthly distribution.


“There's a constant work process to bring (food) in, sort through it,” Cornette said. “In between distributions, we serve multiple agencies, Women's Crisis Center (in Maysville) … other churches that are doing food ministries on a smaller scale in their communities.”


Among the counties: Mason, Fleming, Robertson, Bourbon, Fayette, Kenton, Lewis, Bracken, Nicholas and Pendleton in Kentucky, plus Adams, Brown and Highland in Ohio.


The food Jehovah Jireh hands out comes from facilities in Wilder and Florence.


A couple minutes before Saturday's distribution started, Cornette said a walk-in cooler is online. He finished with a promise.


“The Lord's gonna fill that up, you know,” he said. “He's not left anything empty yet. Everything we empty out, He fills right back up. No doubt.”

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