Food pantry faces heavy burden in wake of downturn in coal industry

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundred of families served by the ministry. (Kristen Lowry\Kentucky Today)

“We have a lot of people who will tell us, ‘There’s no food in my pantry; I have nothing to eat,’” said Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry. “If not for what we do here, we’d have a lot more people going hungry in Letcher County.”

The Whitesburg initiative supplies food boxes to more than 500 families in a 6-mile radius each month.

The food pantry is operated out of a small white house on the corner of the grounds of Whitesburg First Baptist Church. The building is provided by the church, which also pays the water and electric bills each month.

The food pantry, which serves an average of more than 1,000 people a month, was established with money from a legal settlement after the Scotia mine disaster of 1976, one of the worst in Kentucky history.

Holbrook says that most of the people who use the food bank typically are the unemployed or the working poor trying to make ends meet in minimum-wage jobs.

And their ranks keep growing throughout central Appalachia where the coal industry is going through a bust cycle. Employment in the coal industry has declined from more than 13,000 five years ago to under 6,000 today.

Read the final installment of Kristen Lowry’s three-part series on coal and the economy in eastern Kentucky at Kentucky Today.

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