By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
EMINENCE, Ky. — A new ecumenical effort is bringing help to impoverished families around rural Henry County, Ky., where about 19 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.
The Henry County Help Center opened in late November in the former Eminence United Methodist Church, located in this one-stop-light town in South Central Henry County. And already it’s preparing to expand.
The center provides food and toiletries to families and individuals in need. It aided about 220 people when it opened in November and helped 357 people in December. This month, the center expects to help at least 400 people, said Joe Durbin, its lead organizer.
Durbin, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., cut his working hours in half recently to make time in his schedule to operate the center. He shoes horses in the morning and operates the center in the afternoon and evening with the help of volunteers.
He’s a retired Naval officer whose features are obscured by a wave of shoulder-length black and grey hair and a full beard. His eyes, behind a pair of thick glasses, wear a look of concern.
It was his work as a farrier that led him to establish the help center, he said.
“I live out in the country near Port Royal, which is in the eastern part of the (Henry) county, which is the most rural,” he said during a recent interview. “When I drive around the community shoeing horses, I see people who need help.
“We try to provide a week’s worth of assistance to residents of Henry County who need to have their budgets stretched a little bit,” he said. “We have a lot of little old ladies living on Social Security. And we have a lot of working poor here. They make minimum wage. There are cases where they make $1 too much or $10 too much” to qualify for assistance from government programs.
Durbin estimates that about 4,000 people — including the members of all the churches involved in the effort — have contributed to the center’s success so far. Among the churches directly involved are Immaculate Conception and St. John Chrysostom in Eminence, both Catholic churches, plus Lockport Baptist Church, New Castle United Methodist Church and Drennon Christian Church. Others have been involved, too, though the names of all churches, volunteers and businesses that have helped is too long to list here.
The former Eminence United Methodist Church, which closed to merge with New Castle United Methodist Church last year, allows the center to use its vacated church building for free. The Rev. David Combs, pastor of the churches, said he and his parishioners wanted to do something to aid needy families in Henry County for some time.
Immaculate Conception’s pastor, Father Anthony Chandler, invited Durbin to speak at the Masses one weekend last fall and ever since, parishioners have faithfully filled a barrel in the church entrance area each week with toiletries and diapers — for babies and adults. Durbin said Immaculate Conception’s families provide 99 percent of the center’s toiletries.
The parish — which draws some members from Henry County — also provides a monetary donation each month and vouchers for free clothes at the parish’s Agape Shop, a thrift store.
The parish also provided the initial inventory — about 1,200 pounds of food — for the center’s food pantry, Durbin said.
“What they’ve provided has been astronomical,” Durbin said of the parish. “We couldn’t make this work the way it does without Immaculate Conception.”
Father Chandler said the parish is happy to help and is grateful to Durbin for responding to the Gospel call to aid the poor.
“I was very, very proud that one of our parishioners has listened to the message and responded to it,” he said. “He saw the need and he’s done a beautiful job.
“Priests can get up and preach about these things over and over again,” he added. “But when they (parishioners) hear from a peer and see them actually doing something, it’s different. They think, well maybe that’s out of my comfort zone, but I want to help you.”
Dare to Care also has joined in the help center’s mission. The agency provides about 2,000 pounds of food each week to the center. And it’s glad to do it, said spokesperson Stan Siegwald in an email message.
“Serving Henry County has long been a challenge for Dare to Care,” Siegwald said. “Prior to the opening of the Henry County Help Center, we had only one partner in the county. We added a mobile pantry to help, but with the need spread over such a large geographic area, getting enough food to people who needed it was problematic.
“Henry County Help Center has jumped in with both feet and has done a remarkable job in a very brief period,” he added. “They’ve rallied the community and gone the extra mile needed to make sure every family in Henry County can access the food they need to have a healthy life.”
Now, organizers hope getting food to the people who need it will be even easier.
The Rev. Paul Briscoe of Lockport Baptist Church said he and his parishioners will pick up food from the help center in Eminence once a month and distribute it to people in the Lockport area — the far south eastern part of the county — every fourth Friday.
The Rev. Corey Beatty will do the same at Drennon Christian Church on the second Friday of each month — starting tomorrow.
The Rev. Briscoe said he’s affected by the “sheer poverty in the area.”
“We, as a church, don’t meet the need,” he said. “So this will be a great thing. We appreciate the opportunity to reach out to the community.”
The Rev. Beatty felt the same way.
“In Lockport or Drennon, it’s very remote. There are families in these areas who wouldn’t dare drive into Eminence, or maybe they don’t have the means to,” he said, adding that providing aid is a key part of the Christian witness. “St. Francis of Assisi said you are to always preach the Gospel but not to often use words.”