Wilmore steps up to keep local grocery stocked

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Every Tuesday at 4 p.m., Wilmore community members meet at Fitch’s IGA to volunteer for an hour to stock the shelves. 

A few months ago, Marcy Thobaben noticed that the shelves were unusually bare when shopping. She asked the owner of Fitch’s IGA, or “the world’s 8th wonder,” as she likes to call him, Leonard Fitch, what was going on with the empty shelves. He explained that he was having issues getting enough employees to restock the shelves or to unload the palettes that come on Tuesday afternoon. 

“What people don’t realize is if we’ve run out of a stick of butter or a cup of sugar, this is it. And we have a Dollar General but, no, we want to support [Leonard Fitch],” Marcy Thobaben said. 

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Not to mention, Fitch’s IGA has stocked up fresh produce and fresh meat departments, which are both important for nutrition but not offered at the Dollar General next door.

Thobaben then told her husband about the situation. Her husband is a pastor at the volunteer-led Mt. Zion Global Methodist Church that doesn’t even have running water and instead has a “cutely-done outhouse with a gothic window.”, and since COVID had stopped the only local ministry their church does, she thought this would be a great way to get back to serving the community through ministry. 

Retired Attorney Jerry Wallace then reached out to Thobaben, informing her he’d love to head up the weekly volunteer mission at Fitch’s IGA. His wife, Andi Wallace, does so with him, and that includes working together 30-45 minutes before volunteers show up to unload the palettes of food, take inventory, and then stock up carts ready for volunteers to take to the shelves. 

Now, the Mt. Zion congregation and other community members, including families, children, and Wilmore City Council Member David Riel and his wife, Debby Riel, come together with their own box cutters in tow to stock the store’s shelves once a week.

“For us, we see it as fulfilling one of Jesus great commandments- to love your neighbor. And for us, our neighbors– not only Leonard Fitch but it’s also our neighbors in Wilmore who really depend on a grocery store and of course to have access to the store and access in particular to one with fresh produce,” said Andi Wallace, who only moved to Wilmore with her husband in December. 

Wallace expands upon this, stating that according to some data, Wilmore could be considered a food desert- especially the rural areas.

According to 2018-2022 Census data, the amount of people who have low access to healthy foods in Wilmore is 68 percent. 19 percent of people with low income in Wilmore have access to healthy foods. For individuals who live in Wilmore’s rural areas including High Bridge and students and other individuals who do not have vehicles, Fitch’s is an important healthy food access point. 

“They’re doing a better job than we’ve done. They’re so precise and careful to get things in the right place. It’s wonderful. When they get through, they usually have a prayer together. It’s beautiful,” Fitch said. “I wish we had more to offer and that things were better. But we’re proud of our produce and fresh meat departments.. I’m just so grateful to them for being here and doing this. Makes my heart feel a lot lighter.” 

If anyone is interested in joining this volunteer-led effort that takes place just once a week, Andi Wallace said they can simply show up to Fitch’s and head through the doors between the meat and deli departments. There’s no need to contact anyone ahead of time.