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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Outreach Program Helps Needy Families, Has Ties to Fort Thomas

A Northern Kentucky program has been helping a less fortunate Kentucky county for years. The Owsley County Outreach Program supplies residents of Owsley County with basic necessities. The organizers of the program have ties to Fort Thomas and FTM wanted to shine a spotlight on the program that had made a difference in countless people's lives.

Vince Turner's aunt, Cleda Turner, started the program when she saw a need for help in Owsley County.

"Cleda Turner is my Aunt who retired and moved back to Owsley County which is where my parents are from.  She identified the need and developed the relationship with the school system,"said Turner. "After discussing the situation with my aunt and other family members we we came up with the concept of a backpack program where we send home easy-to-prepare meals with school age children over the weekend. They pick up the backpack Friday from the schools resource center and bring the backpack back by Tuesday which we fill up and return to the school.  We came up with the concept of collecting nonperishable food items, clothes and other useable household items from here in Northern Kentucky and deliver them to Owsley County. I used my contact with the Masonic Lodge in Alexandria to create a collection center and the Booneville Lodge for a distribution center."

Turner described the kind of environment they wanted to provide for people to shop and find the things that they needed.

"We wanted to create an environment of a thrift store where items are displayed with pride either hung up or folded.  Those that have needs get items for free or by vouchers distributed with the backpacks so they can come in and get school clothes or even work clothes to help get a job if the opportunity arises," Turner said.

There are people that will shop at the thrift store because the program has a lot of very nice things that have been donated, which in turn helps the program because 100% of all proceeds go to buy food to support the food programs.

Turner and his father and originally transported the items by truck until they bought one school bus and had another donated.  Now they fill up one school bus and take it down to Owsley County and pick up the empty bus.

The outreach program collects backpacks and easy-to-prepare meals for children and families, but there are some things that the program goes through quicker than other items.
"We have some backpacks and some are showing wear, so we will always accept donations of backpacks. These are school age children so we go through jars of peanut butter and boxes of crackers like crazy," Turner said.

As far as donating other items, the program is open to suggestions. In the past the program has collected coats around winter time or furniture if a resident of Owsley County should experience a house fire, organizers said.

"You never know when the right person will hear about the program and donate a truckload of peanut butter," Turner said.

The Owsley County Outreach Program's motto is "helping those least able to help themselves" and all the people that purchase or receive goods need the program's help.

"The goods are distributed to the ones who are identified as a need or they are sold in the thrift store for nominal amounts and that money supports the good programs," Turner said.

The need for help in Owsley County stems from the county's economic state.

"There simply are too few jobs in the community.  It was a proud farming and coal mining community that has seen both deteriorate. People that are fortunate enough to have good jobs typically have to drive an hour or so each way. Many move away to find work while others stay behind to take care of parents or grandparents," Turner said.

According the U.S. Census the average household income in Owsley County is about $17,000.
Over the lifetime of the outreach program, which is about seven years, the program has helped countless families. According to Turner the backpack program alone reaches about 100 families a week.

It should be noted that Owsley County is a proud community with children in school and hard working families.

"The residents there are not hungry, but there is a definite need in the community," Turner said. "We try to see the kids are not hungry but that doesn't mean a school supply drive or something like that would be much appreciated."

The Owsley County Outreach Program has many success stories thanks to a need that was identified by Cleda Turner and tireless work by the Turner family and program workers.

For more information on the Owsley County Outreach Program you can visit Jewels on the Avenue at 18 North Fort Thomas Avenue, visit the program's Facebook page or the program's website.

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