By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - It all started with a plea from the pulpit.
One Sunday about five years ago, Rocky and Trish Horn and their children were attending Mass at St. Mary Church in downtown Lincoln as usual, when pastor Father Douglas Dietrich asked anybody who owned a pick-up truck to consider becoming a Foodnet volunteer.
Foodnet is an organized group of volunteers that collects all kinds of groceries that are at or near their expiration dates from local stores. Normally, this food would be destined for the landfill, but with Foodnet, it is given to anybody in need. Foodnet provides mostly perishable foods which are not usually found at a dry-goods food pantry, but are still in demand. More than 1,000 people are helped by Foodnet each week.
Rocky Horn had just the right vehicle. He felt called to help, so he volunteered.
Every other Saturday since then, the Horns have gone to a large grocery store and backed up to the loading dock. After they sign in, store employees bring out Foodnet donations.
The Horn kids climb into the back of the truck and start packing in boxes of produce, crates of dairy products and cartons of other groceries.
“We have a big truck,” Trish Horn said. “It’s usually so packed full, we can’t get another box in — right up to the top of the cab, all the way back.”
Once the Horns are to the point where they can’t possibly fit in another loaf of bread or bottle of milk, they drive to St. Mary Church and help unload it. Depending on how much time it took to pick up the food, they sometimes stay and help the other Foodnet volunteers sort items and mark out the UPC codes, as required.
The Horns are transplants to Lincoln. In 2008, at the urging of a friend who lives in Nebraska’s capital city, they escaped the low-performing public schools and exorbitantly-priced parochial schools in Las Vegas to give their children a better education.
Some time ago, Rocky’s work schedule changed, and he had to work on Saturdays. Trish and the kids kept on volunteering for Foodnet, but it started to wear on Trish, especially with all her other responsibilities.
“I was getting burned out,” she admitted. “I was wondering, does it really benefit anybody, or is it people taking advantage of the system?”
Just as she was seriously thinking about quitting Foodnet, she became friends with a single mother who was struggling to make ends meet.
“She was down and out, and so I told her about this program,” Trish recalled.
She was surprised to find out that the woman already knew about Foodnet and relied on it to feed her family.
“Without Foodnet, I don’t know where I’d be,” the mother told Trish.
That was all Trish needed to hear.
“Ever since that day, I don’t have that burned-out feeling any more,” she said. “I realized it is truly a good service. I can actually see that somebody is benefitting from it.”
She is happy to know that her friend can get a variety of good, healthy groceries at no cost, and treats as well.
“There are a lot of choices, just like walking down the aisle at a grocery store,” she said.
Trish believes that her children also get something out of the experience. Rox, 18 is a senior at Pius X High School, and Nicole, 16, is a sophomore.
“We don’t utilize Foodnet because we’re not in a position where we need to, but they see the people who do,” Trish said. “They see the other volunteers who give their time.”
Even though getting up early on a Saturday is not something most teens enjoy doing, Trish said Rox and Nicole don’t mind.
“Sometimes it’s not easy, but overall, it’s not a big deal. It’s just what we do,” she said. “You do it because you know it’s right.”
In fact, it’s been so much a part of the Horns’ weekend schedule, they sometimes forget to record Rox’s time spent volunteering for Foodnet among his senior service hours required at Pius X.
With Rox graduating this spring and applying at colleges, the Horns are already thinking about how they can continue to fulfill their commitment to Foodnet. Trish has encouraged her daughter to bring along a couple of friends to help.
“If we stopped doing it, who would step up?” she reasoned.
Foodnet currently has 20 distribution sites where any person in need of food can get some groceries. At least two sites are available each day of the week. Most of the sites are in Lincoln, but there are also Foodnet sites in Crete, Denton, Milford and Seward.
St. Mary’s Foodnet welcomes people at 1 p.m. Saturdays (sign-in begins at 12:30). Cristo Rey Church in Lincoln begins distributing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays (sign-in at 5 p.m.). No proof of income or stated address is required.
“If you need it, use it,” Trish encouraged. “It’s not just for Catholics, and it’s not just for people on state government programs.”
For more information about Foodnet and a complete list of distribution locations and times, visit www.foodnetlincoln.org.
Foodnet accepts seasonal produce. Items may be delivered to any Foodnet site on the day of distribution, or those interested may call 402-416-6197 to leave a message, and someone will contact them for other arrangements. Foodnet volunteers can pick up fresh produce in and around the communities of Lincoln, Crete, Denton, Milford, and Seward.