Feeding Grayson County
By Adam Vogler

Hollie Hagan, 17, retrieves mini Babybel cheeses from the cooler of the Grayson County Alliance in Leitchfield. The locally made cheese is one of many food items donated to the food pantry for its clients. Hagan is a junior at Grayson County High School and volunteers at the Alliance.

Food insecurity affects one in six people in Grayson County, including one in five children. Debbie Childress, executive director of the Grayson County Alliance, wants to make that number zero. Using grants, donations, creativity, perseverance, compassion and the help of the community, she and her staff make certain hundreds of Kentuckians have food in their cupboard each month.

“I personally believe that if Grayson County has a problem, Debbie Childress has a problem, and that's the heart and the mindset that I come with to my job,” Debbie says.
More than one-fifth of the 26,420 people who call Grayson County home live below the federal poverty line.

The Alliance was formed in 2001 after four families recognized the food insecurity in the community and saw that the USDA Commodity Supplemental Food Program was being delivered in other counties, but not here. They investigated how to bring that government aid to Grayson County and formed the nonprofit.

The backbone of the Alliance is its people – the staff, the volunteers and the community members who support it.

“What you do matters, and I just can't unsee the problem (of hunger)," Debbie says. "I learned even more that most of Grayson County feels the same way. They just don't always know what to do.”

The success of the nonprofit depends on those who support it, including Darrell Maul who donated the building the Alliance calls home, and the middle school students who spend each fall collecting canned goods. In 2021, 620 volunteers worked almost 5,700 hours for the Alliance.

The food pantry served 730 families in the past month and has been adding an average of 50 new families a month, according to Debbie.

“This is the most amazing food pantry I’ve ever been to,” Alliance client Linda Hutcherson says.
Linda, who had never been to a food bank until after she retired, was one of more than a hundred people who had appointments at the food pantry one Thursday.
“Everyone is friendly and nonjudgmental," Linda says. "They know your name; you feel comfortable here."

“It’s usually the people that are the biggest helpers of other people that struggle the most,” Debbie says. “If I had a flat tire on the side of the road, would you reach out and help me? Then let me help you.”

Warehouse manager Tessa Cummings helps a client transport food to their car during a distribution day. Clients need to make an appointment in advance and provide proof of residency to receive assistance.

Volunteers Lou Clanin (from left), his wife, Karen Clanin, and Hollie, fill carts with food for clients from a commercial cooler. The Alliance relied on multiple consumer appliances before receiving the large cooler.

Bread and milk are among the staples staff and volunteers distribute to clients. The food pantry provides food to more than 700 households each month.

Tessa uses a shopping cart to transport food in the Alliance’s warehouse as staff and volunteers prepare to distribute food to more than a hundred households who have appointments later in the day. The food pantry is open by appointment only 8-10 days each month.

Angela Perrin prepares barbecue chicken sandwiches for her family of four using food the family received from the Alliance. Angela’s husband, Bryan, had a heart transplant requiring the family to rely on his disability payments.

Linda Downs takes a bite of a whole wheat pancake with yogurt and strawberries prepared by Robin Burton, senior nutrition educator with the Grayson County Cooperative Extension Service, during a nutrition class. Robin also discussed the nutritional values of different foods and how to read food labels during the class.

Clients register with Alliance staff members and fill out paperwork before taking their carts of food out to their vehicles. The amount of aid clients are eligible to receive is based on their income level.

The next stage for the Grayson County Alliance is the completion of ongoing renovations of the nonprofit’s building, including heating and air conditioning, a more comfortable waiting area, and new office and education spaces.