Flint Street director embraces food bank role
A longtime social worker, Kathy Barnes knows how important it is to help those in need. She knows it so well that the Flint Street Board of Directors named her the new director of Flint Street Fellowship in April.
“I’ve been through a lot. Most social workers have been through a lot in their own lives,” Barnes said. “You learn from your own trials and tribulations that other people are going through trials and tribulations. I’d like to lighten the load. My experience has taught me that we all need each other.”
Ben Helmer, president of the Flint Street Board of Directors, said that attitude is exactly why Barnes is the director of Flint Street.
“She has responded to the needs of clients so well,” Helmer said. “I’m very happy about that.”
Helmer said Barnes was tasked with managing the food bank through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barnes explained that the food bank had closed its doors at the beginning of the pandemic, offering pre-packaged boxes of food to those in need. That meant clients couldn’t choose the food they wanted in the boxes, Barnes said.
“We had to rearrange how we distributed food and we couldn’t give them choices anymore,” Barnes said. “Before, if someone came to the door it would be like, ‘Do you want mac and cheese or rice? Do you want soup or ramen?’ I wanted to get back to where they can make those choices again.”
Indeed, the food bank reopened its doors in early May to offer clients more food choices and the opportunity to shop for free clothes. Barnes said the food bank has options for vegetarians, vegans and those with a gluten-free diet.
“We try to feed everyone as well as we can,” Barnes said.
She started volunteering at the food bank in 2019, Barnes said, when longtime director Pat Kasner retired. People still talk about Kasner, Barnes said.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Barnes said. “It’s very intimidating, believe me.”
Before she landed in Carroll County, Barnes said, she was displaced because of Hurricane Katrina. She said she bounced around a few different places in Arkansas over the years.
“We ended up here and fell in love with Eureka, as everyone does,” Barnes said. “I worked at the school for a while as a mental health therapist for the kids, and then I worked with Circle of Life.”
Volunteering at the food bank gave her a different perspective on what people need, Barnes said. One of her goals is to keep reaching out to the community to assess those needs and expand the food bank’s offerings, she said.
“I want to find out how we can do more than what we’re doing now or what we’re missing,” Barnes said. “I want to find out how we can best serve the community.”
Barnes continued, “Our point of view is only one point of view. We need to know what our clients need. That’s what this is all about — not what we think they should need, but what is their biggest need.”
Before the pandemic, Barnes said, the food bank had a free shelf with condiments, toiletries and other items that wouldn’t traditionally be included in the food box. Barnes said those items are special to the food bank’s clients, especially items like mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, peanut butter and jelly.
“It’s those things that brighten up your meal but aren’t basic everyday stuff,” Barnes said. “It’s things that aren’t your basic can of green beans and corn, so there’s something to look forward to and enjoy.”
Helmer said Barnes has done a great job reopening the food bank’s doors in a way that’s safe for everyone.
“We’re back to being open and volunteers helping people face-to-face instead of behind a desk,” Helmer said. “One of the good things [Barnes] did is make it so people could access the clothing. We’re the only place I know of that offers free clothing to people.”
The most important thing about the food bank, Barnes said, is that everyone feels welcome there.
“We want people to feel very welcome and that we’re here for them,” Barnes said. “We’re here to help in any way we can. We go out of our way. Our volunteers are great.”
The food bank wouldn’t operate without volunteers and community support, Barnes said.
“We are so appreciative of the volunteers and the people who donate,” Barnes said. “That’s how we exist. It’s just so heartwarming that we’re all sharing and taking care of each other in this community.”
She continued, “We have so many big-hearted people here. We really do. They’re in the background keeping Flint Street going.”
For more information on Flint Street Fellowship, visit www.FlintStreet.org.