Thursday, January 3rd, 2013...3:51 pm

Couple ministers with loaves but no fish

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Susan Higdon was looking over her notes recently trying to make sure she told me all the names of volunteers who help in what she and her husband, Tony, see as one of their ministries.
But she couldn’t read the names she had written, so she turned to her husband and asked for his glasses, probably a frequent request considering how quickly he did as asked.

Tony and Susan Higdon unloaded their van which was full of bread they picked up earlier in the morning, at the Lexington Senior Citizens Center. The husband and wife team get up every morning to retrieve day-old bread from two Kroger sites and from Pepperidge Farm. Photo by Charles Bertram

When I looked at them curiously, Tony Higdon laughed and said, “I told her I wasn’t giving her my teeth!”
With that symbiosis and humor, the Higdons have been waking in the wee hours for about 11 years, regardless of weather, and collecting day-old bread and pastries that then are distributed free to senior citizens and churches.
“At the top of the article put ­C-R-A-Z-Y,” said Tony, who will be 75 next week. “And then under that, put blessed.”
“Our formula is simple,” said Susan, 63. “To be blessed, you have to bless. There is no other way. That is where the contentment and peace is. You can’t buy it or sell it. It only comes from God.”
Matthew Ransdell is ­volunteer coordinator for Kentucky Harvest in ­Lexington, a non-profit ­organization that uses ­volunteers to pick up surplus food from various businesses and deliver it to people in need and the groups that serve them.
The Higdons are two of the organization’s most “seasoned volunteers,” which number 12 to 15, he said.
Those volunteers visit most of the Krogers in town and collect baked goods that then are taken six or seven days a week to the ­Lexington Senior Citizens Center by the ­Higdons, and to the ­Salvation Army, ­Lexington Rescue Mission and the men’s and women’s Hope Centers by other volunteers.
“We are 100 percent ­volunteer,” Ransdell said. “We have no offices, no trucks and no warehouses. We basically have a very, very small operation budget. It is all volunteer-driven and all volunteer-run.”
Kentucky Harvest does not reimburse for gas, either, he said.

Susan and Tony Higdon.

The Higdons pick up items from the ­Pepperidge Farm warehouse in ­Lexington about 4 a.m. ­Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. They take the bread directly to the senior citizens center on ­Nicholasville Road, where other volunteers unload it and set up a distribution table.
On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they also pick up donated bread and pastries from the Krogers at Regency Centre and at Brannon Crossing.

Photo by Charles Bertram

The pastries are reserved for bingo prizes at the senior citizen center.
The couple began the ­volunteer effort about 11 years ago when they were asked by Mary Lou ­Campbell, now with the State Health Insurance ­Assistance Program, to help on a rotating basis because Campbell was having to back off from volunteering with the program. After about six months, the couple became the main volunteers ­during the week with help on weekends.
Tony, a retired tile man, and Susan, retired from a variety of jobs, have been married for 18½ years. They met at their church in 1975 while both were married to other spouses.
Nearly two decades later, after both were divorced, Tony asked Susan on a date.
“I asked him, ‘Why do you want to date me?’” she said. “‘I’m not rich, I’m not pretty and I’m far from thin.’ He said, ‘You are very outspoken.’ Our strength is communication.”
She pouts when she’s upset with him and he grabs a hammer to go work on something when he is ­displeased. But before the day is over, they make up. “We never let the night go by in anger,” she said.
There is no point of ­contention however about their bread ministry.
“It is a labor of love that we both enjoy,” said Tony,  a lay minister at their Seventh-day Adventist church.
“When Jesus came to this Earth, he said he came to serve, not to be served,” he said. “When you get out of the mode of being servants, you get to the point that you hate yourself. Then you get to the point you don’t want to do it. You are ­miserable with yourself and you make everybody around you ­miserable.

Susan Higdon picked up bread from the Pepperidge Farm distribution center shortly after 4 a.m. Photo by Charles Bertram.

“If you stay active, ­regardless of what it is, you see a result of being in ­service to whomever. If you can’t love here, you can’t love in heaven.”
The couple have had their grandchildren ­involved with gathering bread products. A few times the children have been hidden by the many boxes of bread in the couple’s van.
For fun, the Higdons have a pleasure farm in Madison County where they can let go of stress and refocus. They also take a bit of time for themselves by attending Third Thursday Thing, a series of monthly educational workshops at Kentucky State University for those ­interested in agriculture. “We drop off the bread here and go there,” Susan said.
They also volunteer at the center and take classes with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kentucky, and are caregivers for someone they know.
And still they have time to collect and deliver bread.
Susan said she is driven to do that.
“Waste not, want not,” she said. “I can’t stand the thought of throwing it away. I want to share with those who could use it.
“If we don’t love and share with each other, what else is there?”
Not much of anything, I guess.
Thank the Lord there still is a cadre of folks like the Higdons who live their beliefs.

Kentucky Harvest welcomes volunteers to pick up donated foods for distribution. Call ­Matthew Ransdell at (859) 536-6209.

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