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Martha Bell, 76, (left) sits with J.P. Crenshaw (right) while she talks to Ralph Helm and Linda Rollins (from left in the foreground) at Martha's Vineyard. Martha established the food pantry in Paducah 27 years ago.

Vine of Faith

story by Michaela Miller

On the walkway into Martha's Vineyard on North 32nd Street in Paducah, crucifixes speckle the walls that lead to a painting of a cross wrapped with grapevines.

"My people are the grapes," says Martha Bell, 76. "We are the vines who help them climb upwards and closer to God."

Martha woke up in the night 27 years ago and decided she wanted to help people in the community of Paducah. She is now the owner and manager of Martha's Vineyard, a food pantry that is staffed by volunteers who stock the kitchens of disadvantaged people in the community. Martha, who has been widowed for 29 years, started the mission two years after the death of her husband, Charles.

"Everyone thought I was out of my tree when I wanted to start a mission here," says Martha. "But there wasn't one here until I started it, and we are still going today."

The pantry is funded by individuals and companies of the city. Martha directs volunteers for the pantry, preparing meals to deliver twice a week to elders and shut-ins in the area.

"They are my little people," says Martha. "I think of them like family."

Martha is relocating the pantry to North 12th Street to serve a community with a greater need. She hopes to have the building remodeled and open by Christmas.

"I just follow directions that God gives me," she says. "We might not be the richest, but we are rich in what we do."

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The cross aound Martha's neck represents the work she does. "We see a lot of things that are thrilling," says Martha. When she sees people doing better after caring for them, she says it makes her feel good about what she does.

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Martha, left, spends hours preparing meals before going to her new location to help with remodeling. "You know you're getting old when everybody retires around you," Martha says.

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Martha stirs spaghetti in a tilt stove at the food pantry as she prepares meals for delivery. "I give them a big amount, because who knows when they are going to eat again," says Martha.

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A large part of Martha's day is taking many calls about business and renovations on the new building. "You never know what each day is going to bring," she says.

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Martha tires at end of the day. She says some days she doesn't get home until t0 p.m.

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The mission of Martha's Vineyard from the beginning was to have faith in God. "I kept thinking I couldn't do it," says Martha about starting the mission. "But I have stayed really close to God, and he has not failed me."

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Martha surveys what needs to be done to the kitchen in her new mision location. "You never know what's going to happen each day," Martha says. "It's really hard to stay calm sometimes."