Paradise Fossil Plant Shut Down and COVID-19 Increase Hunger in Muhlenberg County
The year 2020 has dropped two major challenges on the residents of Muhlenberg County.
First, a major plant shut down, followed by COVID-19. That one-two punch has dramatically increased food insecurity in the county.
During the pandemic, Hope 2 All food pantry has given out boxes of food to about 4,000 families a month at its Muhlenberg County site in Drakesboro.
A year ago, about 1,000 families a month came to that location pick up food.
Brad Payne has been director of the Hope 2 All community pantries for 10 years.
“This has been a really different experience. All 10 years doesn’t measure up to what we’ve come into with COVID-19," said Payne. "But I’m so honored to say we never ran out of food. We were always able to meet the need and be there for people when they came in.”
Muhlenberg County’s economic struggles of 2020 began in February when the Tennessee Valley Authority shut down its Paradise Fossil Plant near Drakesboro. That impacted more than 100 jobs. The plant had been in operation for 50 years.
Payne said he has seen plenty of ups and downs during his 10 years as director of the food pantry, but this is way out of the ordinary.
“This year we were inundated with people. They came from everywhere. You know, there were people who never used a food bank that came and explained their situation and we were able to sign them up " said Payne. "Almost every week, we get new clients.”
Hope 2 All distributes food on Monday at its Muhlenberg location. The organization distributes food on Tuesday at its pantry in Nortonville in Hopkins County.
Payne is also a pastor at two area churches.
Hope 2 All is a partner agency with Feeding Kentucky America's Heartland, a regional food bank that serves 42 counties in the state.
Food Insecurity Increases
Before COVID-19, the Muhlenberg County food insecurity rate was 16 percent of the population, with 22 percent of children under the age of 18 experiencing food insecurity, said Jamie Sizemore, executive director of Feeding America Kentucky's Heartland.
Since COVID hit, those numbers have risen to 21 percent of the population that is food insecure and 31 percent of children.
The population of Muhlenberg County is about 31,000.
In the food bank's 42 county service area, the pre-COVID percentage of food insecurity was 15 percent overall, and 20 of children.
Since COVID-19, the rate of food insecurity in the 42 county region has risen to 20 percent oveall and 29 percent of children.
Statewide, Kentucky has a pre-COVID food insecurity rate of 14 percent and 19 percent of children.
Since COVID-19, Kentucky's overall rate of food insecurity has increased to 20 percent, with 28 percent of children in the state experiencing food insecurity.