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Stepping Up to the Plate

One member in Kentucky is on a mobile mission to provide full plates and end hunger in nearby counties.

“We were always taught to give back,” Mark Hehman, a Catholic Order of Foresters Agent in Kentucky, said of his large, close-knit family. “It ended up being something he has passion for.”

That “he” is Mark’s brother, John, and that passion is Food for Friends.

John Hehman of Fort Wright, Kentucky, runs “Food for Friends” – the mobile food pantry for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington. Food for Friends visits rural counties to provide food to people in need. While Food for Friends currently visits Bracken, Grant, and Gallatin Counties, more counties are on the list. “We are going to go to six counties in the Diocese of Covington,” John said. “Our goal is to have two others up and running by the end of the year.” According to a pre-COVID census, households in these counties – including Mason, Pendleton, and Owen – make less than $50,000 a year.

The most challenging part, John says, is getting word out to the communities that help is available. Something is working, though: Food for Friends serves anywhere from 45 to 93 households monthly in Bracken County.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program delivers the food the morning of the pantry, allowing families to receive fresh ingredients. Each household receives between 20 and 40 items, including dry goods, fresh produce, dairy products, and frozen meat. John is responsible for food ordering, distribution, organization, recruiting and managing volunteers, and more.

His favorite part of the job is seeing people who need food get food, but he says a close second is the volunteers. Between the three locations, there are nearly 95 volunteers ready to serve. “The pantries could not happen without [them]. We have been extremely blessed by the number of volunteers who have stepped up. It’s been overwhelming,” John explained.

Mark never imagined John would be in a role like this. “He volunteered as a fireman, wound up going to school for it, and loved it,” Mark said. “He finished his degree … put his years in and retired, [but] he’s too young to retire!”

John was volunteering at Parish Kitchen (a Catholic Charities ministry program founded in 1974) and saw an ad for the mobile food pantry. “I kicked [the idea] around and, well, here I am!” John started Food for Friends in January 2020. Though he did have a blueprint for it from another diocese, there was no manual on navigating a pandemic. “COVID has slowed us up,” he explained.

As one of the top agents at Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) for production year 2020, Mark Hehman earned a Richard Tobin Benevolence Award. This award allows its recipient to choose an organization to receive a $500 donation from COF. Mark chose Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington, with the intent for it to support Food for Friends. “It was neat for him to choose us,” John said.

Agents from the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati Agency serve meals at Parish Kitchen once a month. “This came from a conversation with John, so I put the challenge out to everyone in the office,” Mark said. “If we are going to talk the talk, we need to walk the walk.”

John, still a regular volunteer at Parish Kitchen, is excited to see his brother and other COF Agents supporting worthy causes in the community. “They stepped up to the plate,” he said.

Article by Katlyn Pischel

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