It will be a while before Fred's hometown has its annual food drive, he told me. That’s an important event because it helps stock the pantry at the small charity where he volunteers. Right now, he said, the larder is practically bare and unemployment is still a big factor in the lives of many where he lives.
Certain times of the year are worse than others, he said, and this is one of those times.
It’s not that people who have money aren’t willing to help others but they have bills and needs of their own. It’s easy sometimes to put those in need out of mind, at least temporarily.
Fred’s charity helps people who wouldn’t come through the door if they didn’t have to. They may be broke but they still have pride and that’s a good thing because when a job opens up they’re ready to apply.
Some of them need a little help applying online. But the charity can help them do that as well.
“Our people want to work,” Fred said, “but despite reports about other regions in the country, jobs in our town are scarce."
Fred said the money raised at the annual golf tournament and at other special events is long gone. And cash donations dry up when parents have to pay taxes, buy insurance and meet the other demands children have in school.
Many retired folks he knows are skimping by as well.
"This is another year when the raise in Social Security will be little more than a fly speck,” Fred said. "Demands on those who have some money may vary month to month but bills are a constant and have to be paid. There’s not always a lot left to give to a charity like ours."
Fred said his mother used to say when someone came to their house in the late afternoon, "Stay for dinner. I'll add more water to the beans."
This, of course, was his mother’s way of saying they didn't have much, but they’d be happy to share what they had.
Fred told me the “free store” at his charity has been giving away clothing to parents who can't afford clothing for their children, and the kitchen continues to prepare and serve meals.
The lady in the office, Bella, keeps doing her version of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, he said, and one way or another things work out.
"Somehow we survive," Fred said, "until more comes in."
This week, Fred said, it was Mr. Gompers, from the gas station down the street, who brought in the meat. And over the summer it was the guards at the jail who brought in vegetables for the soup kitchen.
Some ladies in town bake, he said, and they sometimes bring in an extra loaf of bread, maybe even a pie or a cake.
“It’s nice to serve dessert to folks who haven’t seen it for awhile.”
As far as Fred knows, no one is starving in his small town. On a weekend, he says, just about everyone is up at Walmart. This time of year they may be buying less, just the things they really need.
“Over at our place,” said Fred, “we help the people who can’t go to Walmart. They come to see us instead."
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and his friend Fred lives in Kentucky.