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Tullahoma Police Department Public Service Officer Naomi Hoopers-Brothers and Good Samaritan of Tullahoma Executive Director Cindy Kinney display some of the free items available to citizens in need at the department’s new emergency weekend pantry.

It started more than a year ago, when a hungry woman outside a Tullahoma church asked a hurried pastor for help. 

Elder Ken Deihl wasn’t First Presbyterian Church’s regular Sunday orator. He was filling in for the weekend; and though he wanted to help, he was due at the pulpit within minutes.

After his Sunday sermon had been delivered, he took the story of his encounter to Good Samaritan of Tullahoma, where he serves on the board. He knew one of the services the ministry offers is a food pantry, but he wondered – if local food pantries are open Monday to Friday, what happens to the hungry on the weekend?

According to Good Samaritan of Tullahoma Executive Director Cindy Kinney, Deihl also knew that the Good Samaritan ministry in Manchester had placed an emergency pantry at the Manchester Police Department. He asked Kinney whether the Tullahoma ministry could do the same thing here.

Kinney immediately took the lead on the project.  After all, she said, the contents of an emergency pantry would be safe and secure at the police department; but more than that, the people who needed to take items from it would feel equally safe and secure there.  And, because the police station is always open, they would have access to emergency provisions on any day, at any hour.

At the Tullahoma Police Department, Public Service Officer Naomi Hoopers-Brothers, who Kinney calls the ministry’s “guardian angel,” was ready to help in any way she could. “We need this,” she reportedly told Kinney.  But at the time, department leadership was not prepared to support the project.

Kinney asked around, looking for an alternate location that would be as safe and easily accessible at all hours of the day, but she was always referred back to the police department, where Hoopers-Brothers was still hoping to help.

When the department underwent a recent change of leadership, Hoopers-Brothers made her request anew.  She spoke to then interim chief Jason Ferrell – and the acting chief agreed to meet the need.

“Once we heard a ‘yes,’ we weren’t looking back,

 said Kinney.

Good Samaritan pantry volunteer Larry Oakes went to work, making the box that now hangs in the department lobby, and Kinney set about filling it with nonperishables.

“It’s all trial by error,” she said.

But the pantry’s purpose is clear: “if a parent is short on funds, they can feel safe to open the box, grab some peanut butter or mac-and-cheese,” Kinney said.  “It’s to get them through the night or the weekend, until a pantry opens up.”

Though the emergency pantry is stocked mostly with food items, that’s not all that can be found inside.

Kinney started preparing “to-go” bags filled with snacks and hygiene items for the homeless – an idea that was quickly embraced and expanded upon by the women’s group of Faith Lutheran Church, which prepared and donated 150 of the goodie bags to the effort.

“My goal is, as this moves along,” said Kinney, “that we might get other food banks to participate.”

In the meantime, anyone who would like to donate to the emergency pantry is invited to drop items at the Good Samaritan building at 210 E. Grundy St. in Tullahoma. Kinney asks only that the items are bagged and clearly marked “for TPD.”  

Kelly Lapczynski can be reached at klapczynski@tullahomanews.com