As I see the devastation and ruined lives in Haiti, I go online to give a donation at Clinton Bush Haiti Relief. Then I stumble across a clip of Rush Limbaugh trying to persuade individuals not to donate.
Being of independent and of fairly sound mind (despite the 70′s), I thought: Would Rush still have this opinion if his life had been constantly filled with hunger and despair? To grow up in, let’s say, Athens County, Ohio where he was one of many kids who had to wait in line at the food pantry with his parents just to get something to eat? Would his cynicism and sarcasm about avoidable slow death be muted? Would he be motivated to get off of his ass and do something for his community? Who knows.
Community Food Initiatives’ Donation Station sign. Keith Peterson weighing food donations from the market.
This got me thinking about Keith Peterson, a man I met years ago who has recently just retired. In 2007, he decided to do something about the lack of quality foods available to the poor. He started delivering fresh local produce to food pantries, food banks, shelters, battered womans’ centers, and just about anyone who needed it. In the 2 years that followed, Keith delivered over 80,000 pounds of fresh food to people in this area. Last year he delivered loads of my fresh baked, high protein Barbari bread to poor community centers and food pantries every Tuesday.
Daniel Martino weighing corn. Keith’s small car stuffed with summertime produce. Delivery to the Food Pantry.
Keith hooked up with Rhonda Clark, head of the Community Food Initiatives non-profit, which coordinated the support needed for him to, quite literally, be the vehicle that enabled the needy to get fresh, nutritious, fruits, vegetables, baked goods and meats to sustain life.
I went Keith to food pantries many times. Here was a guy who, instead of flapping his gums like Rush, coerced, begged, pleaded and wheeled and dealed to get people to give food, or money to buy food. He then bought more food and transported it to the people who need food most: the elderly, the sick and the children. He never espoused any political affiliation or philosophy (except being a huge AC/DC fan) and had a fair amount of contempt for people trying to manipulate the needy for religious, political (or in Rush’s case) rating reasons. That’s why I like him.. Oh, he is funny as hell also.
Keith’s modus operandi was to stand all day at the Athens Farmers Market with his right hand man, Daniel Martino (employed through VISTA), and ask people to donate any item from the farmers, which he would then take to 13 different organizations to feed the needy.
Produce given to CFI by the farmers and customers of the Athens Farmers Market.
At the end of the market, tgenerous farmers drop off huge amounts of produce, meats and foodstuffs to Keith. The CFI team, including Keith’s wife Ellen, spends the rest of the day weighing, cataloging and bagging up all the foods to meet the greatest food needs of this, the poorest county in Ohio.
Kieth also was a regular at the Chesterhill Produce Auction, now run by Rural Action and Tom Redfern and Bob Fedeski. Here he bid on items with donated monies. While there, he’d also guilt me (just by staring) into giving him some of my Amish vegetables that I so proudly outbid all comers for.
Just one load of food brought to the Kilvert Community Center looks massive. Amish vegetables at auction.
I gotta tell you, this dude is a tough bidder. He can outbid me at the last minute after distractingme with “Hey John, isn’t that a flat tire on your vehicle?” All of a sudden, that good-looking basket of red and yellow beets are in his hands and he’s laughing like the Joker of Batman fame.
I will miss Keith and the worthwhile work he does. Whoever fills his shoes will have alot to cover to reach the intensity and productivity he showed helping out the families of Appalachia. Here is Keith in typical Peterson mode: downplaying what he has done.
Thanks to Keith, Community Food Initiatives and the Farmers of Athens County. More than one kid in Athens County benefitted from Keith’s efforts and was able to concentrate better at school instead of worrying about an empty stomach. Maybe that kid, because of the nutritious food he or she was able to eat, broke the chain of generational poverty and moved on to college.
And just maybe, that kid will go on to become a radio announcer, or the President of the United States, or even better yet, a crazy pizza guy.