A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ag Commissioner Quarles ‘blown away’ by coordination of services at MASTER Provisions

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles toured MASTER Provisions in Florence Wednesday and liked what he saw.

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles in front of a semi of donated food during a visit to MASTER Provisions in Florence Wednesday (photos by Mark Hansel)

Quarles, who started the Kentucky Hunger Initiative to build collaborative partnerships that will minimize hunger in Commonwealth, said he was “blown away’ by the efforts of the non-profit agency.

“We’ve fully incorporated the faith-based community in the Hunger Initiative,” Quarles said. “They are already serving a constituency that they know far better than any government agency will ever know. There is also a core congregation that usually provides labor which I can see here today.”

MASTER Provisions, which began in 1994, is a faith-based organization that provides food, clothing and orphan care in the U.S. and around the world.

In 2014, the organization began providing food to hunger relief agencies that serve the tri-state region of Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Southwest Indiana.

MASTER Provisions collects high quality, fresh food that would otherwise go to waste, stores and manages it safely, and makes it available to its food partner agencies. The food outreach has become the largest of MP’s mission activities.

John Eldridge, Director of Local Outreach and Food Operations for MASTER Provisions, gave Quarles a tour of the facility, which includes a 1,408 square-foot cold storage and freezer unit. The unit doubled the cold storage space available to area nonprofits engaged in hunger relief.

Quarles said having adequate space for food is critical to ensure food that becomes available does not go to waste.

“One of the biggest issues we’ve been hit by is lack of storage,” Quarles said. “We are starting an initiative that when gas stations renovate, they donate coolers.

The Hunger initiative is also focused on  education and public awareness of hunger and strengthening Kentucky’s food-distribution infrastructure to enable farmers to better serve the needs of Kentuckians.

A few of the food items that will be distributed to local families through the efforts of MASTER Provisions.

On the last Saturday of every month, MASTER Provisions takes its Mobile Food Pantry out into the community, because its research has shown that is the time of greatest need.

“We’ll take a full semi-load and a box truck worth of products. We’ll take 55,000 pounds of food on a mobile pantry,” Eldridge said. “We’ll have fork lifts unload it to a piece of tarmac that is in a central in the community where we know people don’t have transportation can be accessible.”

Quarles said he recently had a meeting to discuss the logistics of delivering food to those who need it.

“That is often times the biggest impediment, especially perishable good which only has a couple of days,” Quarles said. “One issue in rural Kentucky is to figure out how to get it there efficiently and how to do it so you are not defeating yourself when it comes to the total price of moving a piece of donated items or food, as opposed to giving them a voucher to go to the grocery store.”

MASTER Provisions is able to offset the costs because of the volume it deals with and its large network of volunteers. It costs the organization about 10 cents per pound to distribute food.

Volunteers spend about 2,000 hours a month at the food center, which is in addition to the time contributed by those that work with the mobile pantries.

The Mobile Pantry also offers a friendly environment for volunteers to contribute to the community as a family.

“There is almost nowhere that a family can serve as a unit,” Eldridge said. “The Mobile Pantry provides an opportunity to bring the family, serve as a family, and you can teach generational generosity.”

Quarles said providing regular access to food is critical and requires a change in the way people think about food donations.

John Eldridge, director of local outreach and food operations, talks with Agriculture Secretary Ryan Quarles about the services provided by MASTER Provisions Wednesday This part of the facility is being developed as the Nelson SAVE center, a flex space that can be used for meetings.

“A lot of people give around Thanksgiving and Christmas and that’s understandable,” Quarles said. “We are trying to get people to start donating on a regular basis, a few bucks a month out of their paycheck or drop off food at a local pantry.  We are trying to change the culture of giving.”

The mobile pantries also serve a hot meal and an outdoor dining area, is set up so people who are receiving donations can sit side-by-side with the people who are volunteering, or they can take the food to go.

Sometimes getting 125 pounds of groceries can be challenging, but Master Provisions has addressed that issue as well. They have developed a shuttle system with vehicles donated for the day by local churches and hospitals.

“We have twelve bus stops in Covington to help get these guys home,” Eldridge said. “We have Samaritan vans that follow, so volunteers can come back and carry their groceries to their doors.”

There is also a large staging area at the Master Provisions warehouse for clothing, which at this time of year includes a lot of coats, hats, gloves and scarves.

Eldridge said the items are critical because for many living in poverty, public transportation or walking is a way of life.

“Most of the time, people in poverty are not living in high-end real estate, they likely don’t ever own it,” Eldridge said. “A lot of times in high-poverty areas, the schools don’t have buses, so kids have to walk to school or people for their employment.”

MASTER provisions is also constructing the Nelson Service and Volunteer Education (SAVE) Center, a flex space that will be used for meetings.

“So many times, nonprofits are standing there with their hands out,” Eldridge said. “We’re saying ‘hey you can have your business meeting (or) team development, where it’s in a climate controlled environment.’ There is no training center in Northern Kentucky to help train volunteers.”

Eldridge has also developed a database, with help from other agencies, to determine how many families receive assistance in a neighborhood and what their needs are.

“I got involved with the Safety Net Alliance of Northern Kentucky food committee and began to survey and get some data,” Eldridge said. “I want to be data driven.”

The profile sometimes include names of residents, but more importantly, indicates the number of people in a household, how many are adults, or children and other information that helps give folks the type of help they need.

Quarles said it is critical to travel around the state to see facilities such as Master Provisions that have an integrated and comprehensive distribution network, which might be able to be duplicated elsewhere.

“The Hunger Initiative is an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. Amanda May says:

    Master Provisions — Wonderful program!

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