God's Pantry boss among Lexington's 'most influential'

Published: March 18, 2013 By Cheryl Truman —

Poll gives nod to woman leading agency that feeds 50-county area

Marian Guinn was voted the most influential woman in the Lexington area in a poll of Herald-Leader and readers. Yet she is not a downtown mover and shaker, basketball coach or baron of industry like most of her compatriots on the list. She runs God's Pantry Food Bank.

Her office, far from the madding crowd of downtown, is in an industrial park off Georgetown Road.

Her closest companions, on the day of this interview, were pallets of canned beans.

What makes her influential?

Guinn cited the dictionary definition of the word influence: someone who gets things done via other people who share the leader's vision. "As a nonprofit leader and a fundraiser, I have always worked through other people," said Guinn, who oversees the 58-year-old hunger-fighting agency that serves 50 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

The Louisville native, who turns 51 later this month, has been a presence on the Lexington fundraising and development scene for more than 25 years. She worked at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital for 10 years, and come August will have worked for God's Pantry for 16 years.

Says Kathy Harrison, communications director for Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness, who previously worked for Guinn at God's Pantry: "She is someone who oozes integrity. She knew that to have a successful nonprofit it had to be run like a successful business. You have to believe in the vision and sell other people on the vision and how you're reaching that vision. "True leaders are influential. Influence is a leadership quality, that you can inspire others to want to follow you."

The numbers tell the story of Guinn's success, and of Kentucky's need. When she started in 1997, God's Pantry had a budget of $600,000 and moved 4 million pounds of food a year. Now it has a $5 million budget and moves 23 million pounds of food into Central and Eastern Kentucky through participating programs in communities and programs such as Kids Café, which gives children a daily meal, and backpack programs in schools for weekend food supplementation.

The storage and distribution has also changed. God's Pantry is concluding a capital campaign that gave the organization the ability to house 550 pallets of refrigerated and frozen food, up from 95 pallets. That means when a big donation is available, the organization now has the ability to store and distribute it.

Who are her clients? A typical client is a 40-year-old white woman with one or two children, Guinn said.

She tells this story: Guinn and her husband often work at the Broadway Christian Church outreach center for God's Pantry on Friday nights. One evening there they met a city employee who had been laid off recently. He was furious about needing a food bank's services.

Another client was a single mother who had come to pick up food with her daughter and a friend. The daughter, who had been given a bottle of chocolate milk, asked whether she needed to pay before cracking it open. She had never been to a food bank and did not know that no money would change hands.

Volunteers have seen people they know seeking help at the God's Pantry centers. The recession has been hard on Kentucky, which was a poor state even before the economic recession claimed its first victims.

"We just have this assumption that as we move through the world that people are dealing as we are," Guinn said. "But one in five people in Kentucky is in danger of being hungry."

"I had already been raising funds in Central and Eastern Kentucky," Guinn said. "I had always been interested in creating healthier lives for Kentuckians. If you don't have a healthy life, everything else is compromised."

Where does she want God's Pantry to go in the next few years? "My hope for our organization is that we are where we need to be so that anyone who needs our services has access," Guinn said, "and they feel good about that exchange."


Marian Guinn

Education: bachelor of arts and master of business administration, University of Kentucky

Family: Husband Gene, two adult children

Thanks: She credits the late Joy Hembree, a well-known Lexington volunteer, with being a mentor.

First job aspiration: Guinn did not set out to be a fundraiser and businesswoman. Her initial ambition was to run a fish hatchery.

Literary preferences: Historical fiction "all featuring women at various points in history who did really amazing things.

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