MURRAY – Next week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and HOPE Calloway has several events planned to raise awareness of the problems of homelessness and food insecurity in this community.

According to hhweek.org, the national week is officially Nov. 13-21.

“Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is a national movement to just take a moment to realize that not everybody has it as easy as others,” said HOPE Calloway Executive Director Nathan Carter. “So it’s important to us as a community that we take a moment to realize that and figure out what we can do to help, and how we can make the holiday season a bit easier for them.”

HOPE Calloway Board of Directors President Jennifer Riley said the agency was not able to do anything for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she hopes the group’s efforts can shine a spotlight this year on what a persistent problem homelessness continues to be locally.

“When I first started working with the Homelessness Coalition (before it merged with Gentry House to become) HOPE Calloway, lots of people in our community didn’t realize that homelessness was an issue – including me,” Riley said. “So it is very important for us as an organization and as a community to spread awareness of this problem. Homelessness in Calloway County doesn’t necessarily look like it does in big cities, but it’s here. There are people who are ‘couch surfing,’ who are living in their cars, who are days away from eviction. There are lots of different reasons and ways people end up facing homelessness, and based on the fact that we get multiple calls daily, it is definitely a fact that homelessness does exist here.” 

Murray-Calloway County Need Line Executive Director Tonia Casey said she was researching the issues Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is meant to call attention to, and she was surprised to learn that Kentucky ranks 10th in the nation for food insecurity. She said that according to Feeding America, 18% of the state’s population currently experiences food insecurity, the “federal measure of a household’s ability to provide enough food for every person in the household to have an active, healthy life.” She said Calloway County falls very close to the state number, with 15% experiencing food insecurity.

“We here at Need Line serve an average of 1,390 households each month,” Casey said. “Also, between the Backpack Program – which distributes 11,920 bags of food in a school year for kids in the Murray and Calloway County school systems – and our senior food program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, we’re trying really hard to make a difference.”

Carter said that on Monday, HOPE Calloway and other agencies will meet with Murray Mayor Bob Rogers and Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes for a proclamation signing at the Community Financial Services Bank (CFSB) at the corner of South 12th and Sycamore streets. The proclamation signing will be at noon in the meeting room on the second floor, but Carter said there will food vendors outside and the community is invited to drop by during their lunch break.

“We definitely want people to come out,” Carter said. “The mayor and the judge will be there for the proclamation signing, but we will also have different organizations present with information tables so people can find out more about them and how they can get involved. Those organizations will include HOPE Calloway, of course, as well as Need Line, Kids Care for Hunger, Soup for the Soul, Angels Attic and Meals on Wheels. They will also be there from 12 to 1 p.m.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, the Cheri Theater will present a screening of “The Pursuit of Happyness.” All ticket proceeds will go toward supporting HOPE Calloway, Carter said. The 2006 film earned Will Smith an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and it dramatizes the true story of Chris Gardner, a homeless medical equipment salesman trying make a better life for himself and his 5-year-old son (played by Jaden Smith) in San Fransisco in the early 1980s. The movie is based on Gardner’s memoir of the same name.

“When you come to the movie, we want everybody to bring a canned good to drop in a box because we’re going to take those to Need Line,” Carter said. “So it’s kind of a dual opportunity there.”

The last activity for the week is No Room at the Inn, which will be at Murray’s First United Methodist Church from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, and Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Carter said this will be the third year for the event, although it was not held last year because of the pandemic.

“That is a free event,” Carter said. “We invite everybody to just come out and kind of kick off the holiday season in recognition and remembrance of people who maybe don’t have it as good as you and will be struggling this holiday season. There will be more than 100 Nativity scenes that have been loaned out by community members. We will also have Christmas goodies there for kids and families to have while they’re there. We will take donations, but there is no ticket price or anything like that.”