April and May were particularly hard months for Helping Hands of Trigg County, a local organization that offers a helping hand with utility bills and food donations for those in need.

“There were twice the clients than we normally had,” said Phil Graham, a member of the group’s board of directors. “But at the same time, the donations during that time were extremely satisfying.”

The upsurge hit not long after the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S. and elsewhere, although Graham said he’s not sure if the increased numbers of people were due to the pandemic.

Some people hadn’t gotten their paychecks, Graham said, while others were yet to receive their unemployment checks. Grocery stores were struggling to keep toilet paper on their shelves, and Helping Hands struggled for a couple of months to get food to help the people coming to its doorstep.

Graham said folks at the agency had to drive to Elizabethtown to get food from the Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland organization that helps Helping Hands supply food to local people in need.

In Elizabethtown, the folks there “had seen nothing like this, ever,” said Pam Alicna, the children and senior programs coordinator for that office, which serves 42 Kentucky counties including Trigg County.

“We just had so many calls of people actually crying,” noted Alicna of the impact of the virus. “It was stressful just to hear their stories and stuff. I guess I’ve just never seen the desperation of people.”

Alicna said her Feeding America office has been working with the Trigg County organization for more than 10 years, providing food at local schools through her group’s backpack program, supplying seniors 60 and older with government commodities and assisting Helping Hands with filling its pantry.

Helping Hands has had a presence in Trigg County since around 1997 when women from several churches came together to help one person who was in need in the community; its charter now declares that the mission of Helping Hands is to provide assistance to the county’s needy residents.

“People in the community come to us when they think there’s a need we can handle,” Graham said.

He noted that the agency may feed as many as 230 people in January and as few as 160 in July when people are gardening and can rely on their own produce to fill their dining tables — and their stomachs.

Several clients come regularly, and a lot of people show up once a year when things get difficult.

Graham noted that the food pantry is Helping Hands’ primary undertaking; half the pantry’s food comes from government food commodities acquired through Feeding America. The remainder is made possible through food donations and other items given out by Feeding America as well as through local food purchases and bags of groceries that are donated by local residents.

Among Graham’s favorite donors are a couple of people who love to fish but aren’t too fond of eating their catches; about five times a year, they’ll drop by with fish to donate to a worthy cause.

Churches and others also offer support with monetary donations to the agency, and Graham notes that half of what Helping Hands spends in a year comes through sales at its Bargain Barn store.

Twice a year Helping Hands used to hold yard sales, selling off furniture and clothing to fund its charitable efforts in the community. Today those lucrative sales have grown into the Bargain Barn.

Alicna noted that Helping Hands of Trigg County is instrumental in operating Feeding America’s BackPack Program, the commodities for senior citizens and the food pantry in the community.

With schools not in session right now, the BackPack Program that provides food for youngsters on the weekends is not as busy, but Alicna said her organization will continue to do as much as it can for each of its 42 counties.

“So many people are food impoverished,” Alicna said. “They have a need for just a little bit of help with their food budget. Right now (with) COVID (ongoing), it’s beyond belief how many people have nothing and are going hungry.”

Alicna said she doesn’t know when her organization will be back in Trigg County, but the group advertises on Facebook and reaches out to newspapers and radio when those dates are known.

Search for Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland on Facebook, or visit the agency’s website at feedingamerica.org for more information. The website also includes a drop-down box where individuals can insert his or her county’s name to find help.

Helping Hands of Trigg County is just off Main Street at 21 Line St., in Cadiz. Call 270-522-1001 for information; the agency’s food bank is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Monday and Friday.

Its program for ages 60 and older is available from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the Wednesday of the third full week of each month.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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