Darren Doyle, story and photos:
In an effort to say 'thank you' to some of the best people you'll find anywhere, we've added a new feature to the Edmonson Voice called the "Next Door Neighbor." It's an honor given to someone that's not just a neighbor, but a person that's gone above and beyond the normal realms of being neighborly. They don't do it for recognition, but it's certainly deserving.
We announced this feature about a month ago and asked for you to send nominations. As they began pouring in, not only was her's the first name received, but it was mentioned many times. We're proud to present our very first Next Door Neighbor to Mrs. Vickie Walker, Coordinator of the Senior Food Pantry.
Mrs. Walker moved to Edmonson County 20 years ago when her husband, a retired veteran, took a job at the Great Onyx Job Corps. She wasn't used to the type of living here in EC and she said it took some time to get used to local businesses being closed on Thursdays and convenience stores closing at dark.
"I was used to something else, and I really didn't think I'd like it here," she said. "But after a while, I began to see. I started meeting people and it's just different here."
The environment had such an effect on her after living here for several years that she wanted to give back to it in some way, so she started volunteering at the senior center, where she stayed busy helping with office work, bringing seniors snacks and treats, checking on individual needs, and simply being a friend. It was here that she discovered a need that wasn't being met.
"There were just so many seniors that were hungry," she said. "I just felt like I needed to try to do something."
She began asking for food donations around Christmas in order to provide a little cheer during the holidays. That turned into asking local businesses for help, which then turned into an annual food drive.
Simply asking for a few folks to help out six years ago has now turned into an extremely driven volunteer organization on which so many now depend.
As the food donations began to grow, the space in which to store them shrunk, forcing Walker to use her own house to store the food and supplies. She said N.E. Reed, who was county Judge Executive at the time, along with county employees Ann Bullock and Margret Skaggs, showed support of her efforts and Reed allowed her to use the basement at the county health department to store the food items.
"We called it the dungeon," she said with a big laugh.
Bullock, who served as county treasurer for 16 years, now volunteers with Vickie in the pantry's day-to-day operations and one that Vickie was quick to credit for her role in their services.
"Ann is my therapist," she said with another laugh. "So many times I'd ask her, 'why do I do this? why do we do this?' And she's been there for me, I don't know where I'd be without Ann. And I also think about (former) Judge Reed. He could've said no, but he didn't."
Ann was quick to stop the conversation and point out who needed recognition.
"Let me tell you something, she's the main character here," she said as she pointed to Vickie. "She's done this all this time and hasn't taken one dime of pay, she's used her car, her gas, her time, everything."
As Vickie shook her head in disagreement, Ann continued. "She stays on her phone, and I'm not teasing, from morning 'til bedtime, trying to help somebody."
And that's the name of the game, helping others. They don't keep track of how many people they help during the year because they say that's not the point, but the number easily adds into the thousands, all of which are Edmonson County residents.
This past summer, they partnered with Feeding America and distributed a tractor-trailer load of food to over 400 families in just under 2 1/2 hours. If you average just 2-3 people per household, that's over 1,000 people in less than three hours.
They also adhere to guidelines as to who can use the program.
To qualify, you must be senior over 60 or disabled and show proof of limited income and you must be an Edmonson County resident. The program does not apply to anyone outside of the county.
Vickie said she also takes issue when someone calls and asks for "free food."
"I don't like that term because it isn't free," she said. "Somebody worked for this. We're not here to give handouts or let someone take advantage of us. We want to feed hungry people."
The pantry operates in cooperation with St. John's Thrift store, which allows them to have non-profit status. The store recommends those in need to the pantry's services. Other recommendations come from Community Action, Lifeskills, and the Edmonson County Senior Center.
Vickie said that since the new facility has moved from the "dungeon" to the Community Center building, which was headed up by current Judge Executive Wil Cannon, they're getting more donations than ever.
"Now we've got people that walk through and they ask us what we're doing," she said. "After we tell them, they'll hand us a 20 dollar bill or make another donation. One lady handed me a $500 check during the Santa's Secret Hands Auction. I thought I was going to hit the floor."
Vickie also expressed thanks to the current fiscal court and magistrates for the support they've shown her pantry, especially over the course of the last year.
We presented her a certificate of thanks that named her as our very first Next Door Neighbor. As she wiped the tears from her cheek, she said a simple "thank you."
"I can't express my gratitude to Edmonson County," she said. "I haven't lived here my entire life, but this county took me in with open arms. Edmonson County is family-oriented and it's special. I just wanted to do something here that could make a difference and everything has fallen into place."
After speaking with her for over an hour she still wanted no credit for her efforts.
"It's the people in the county that make this work," she said. "Edmonson County is a place where people stick together. It's just a good county."
To make a donation to the Senior Food Pantry or to find out more ways that you can help, contact them at 270-779-1203.
Got a suggestion on who needs to be a Next Door Neighbor? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." --Romans 15:2 KJV