It’s doubtful most of the dozens who daily visit The Neighborhood to dine at Ashland Community Kitchen or visit CAReS, the Dressing Room, Clean Start or River Cities Harvest even notice the small, newly planted tree growing in the front yard of the former Johnson’s Dairy building, just a few feet from the offices of RCH.
But the small Kwanzan cherry tree was donated to The Neighborhood by United Way of Northeast Kentucky as a living memorial to Jim Fout, the founder of RCH who died Nov. 28 at age 84.
“We wanted to do something for Jim Fout because he did so much for this community,” said Steve Towler, executive director of UW in Boyd, Greenup, Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties.
“Here’s hoping that River Cities Harvest will continue to grow as this tree grows,” said Helen Fout, Fout’s widow. “I believe Jim is looking down on us now and he is pleased.”
Mrs. Fout made her comments during a brief dedication ceremony Friday morning for the tree that was also attended by the Fouts’ son, James Scott Fout of Ansonia, Conn. The son was in Ashland visiting a mother who remains active in RCH.
Jim Fout founded RCH in 1991 with a small group of fellow retirees of Ashland Oil Inc. Originally an arm of the Ashland Oil Retirees Association, which Fout helped start, RCH began with volunteers daily picking up surplus food — perishable food items past their sale date, but are still safe to eat — from supermarkets and restaurants and distributing to nonprofit agencies that feed the hungry. Most of the donated food goes to the Kitchen, which serves free lunches Monday through Friday and dinner on Wednesday and Thursday in its modern dining room.
That continues to be the primary task of RCH, but over the years, the organization has also distributed surplus food to the Salvation Army, Safe Harbor, the Shelter of Hope and other agencies that serve low-income residents. It has also supervised the distribution of nonperishable items collected by the annual Stamp Out Hunger drive by U.S. Postal Service employees each May, and the semitrailer load of food from Feed the Children that Naomi Judd brings to Ashland each summer.
RCH also distributes hundreds of pounds of fresh produce raised by inmates in the garden at the Federal Correctional Institute in Summit, and collects hundreds of pounds of produce from the Boyd County Farmers Market.
“We are continuing to grow all the time and getting more and more food,” said Bob Owen, RCH director. “But none of this would be happening if it had not been for Jim Fout. He is the reason River Cities Harvest exists, and he and Helen continued to be among our most loyal and dependable volunteers right until just days before Jim died.”
“Jim Fout had a passion for River Cities Harvest,” Towler said. “Our hope is that this little tree, which will grow to display beautiful blooms each spring, will be a constant reminder to others of what Jim Fout did for this community. He was an inspiration for all of us who knew him.”
A plaque honoring Fout has been ordered, and when it arrives, Johnson’s Nursery will design and come up with the best way to display the tribute, Owen said.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2649.