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Food bank's director feeds on aiding needy


`The kids and the seniors are my biggest concern,' said Arnold Metdepenningen, county food bank coordinator.

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MONROE - Arnold Metdepenningen has experienced love at first sight.

“My heart jumped up in my throat. It was just perfect,” he said.

He first saw her when he was taking a drive one chilly day in March, 2000. She was just sitting by the side of the road. After spending $3,100, Mr. Metdepenningen possessed the object of his affection.

He was the owner of a truck.

Mr. Metdepenningnen, coordinator of the Monroe County Food Bank, knew immediately that the truck was ideal for hauling food.

He was eventually reimbursed for the cost of the vehicle, but he never has hesitated to spend his money to help the food bank.

“A lot of the expenses he incurs come out of his own pocket and his own heart,” said John Kastler, an executive at Gleaners, a large food bank near Detroit.

Mr. Metdepenningen, a 67-year-old retiree, volunteers much of his time to the Monroe County Food Bank. He sometimes spends more than 30 hours a week moving and sorting food or attending meetings to find funding.

“He's one of the most dedicated people I know. He'll come pick up food from us at all hours as many as three or four times a week,” said Cheryl McKenzie, a supervisor at the Meijer Distribution Center in Newport, Ohio.

Since he took over as coordinator of the food bank in 1997, the organization has moved to a larger office, and its budget has more than tripled, from $12,000 a year to $40,000.

Mr. Metdepenningen is a painter by trade. Before going to work for Ford Motor Co. in 1962, he served four years in the Navy.

The Navy provided Mr. Metdepenningen with a valuable opportunity to travel. He visited the Caribbean and many parts of Europe. He said his favorite trip was to Belgium, the original home of his mother and father.

“I got to see the house where my mother was born and talk to my great-grandmother. It was the best weekend of my life,” he said.

Mr. Metdepenningen now has a large family of his own. He has been married for 47 years, and has five children, 10 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

“Most families scatter to different places, but mine chose to stay in the area. I'm proud of that,” Mr. Metdepenningen said.

And he is proud of the work he has done at the food bank.

“The word's getting out to come to us for food, and it thrills me to give it away. The kids and the seniors are my biggest concern,” Mr. Metdepenningen said.

The Monroe County Food Bank collects donated food from grocery businesses and distributes the food to people in emergency situations or to other agencies, including Meals on Wheels and Boysville. Much of the food goes to six area food closets, smaller organizations that together distribute food to about 600 needy families every month.

In November, 1999, Mr. Metdepenningen arranged for the bank to move from its location in the basement of the National Guard Armory building on South Dixie Highway to a nearby location on Military Street.

“We really needed the space. I said if we couldn't pay the rent, I'd pay it myself,” he said.

Mr. Metdepenningen utilized his painting skills to save remodeling costs by doing work on the new location himself. He painted the office area and built a cabinet and coat rack.

In addition to overseeing the food bank's operations and transporting food, Mr. Metdepenningen often deals with people seeking emergency help. “He's really caring with the families. He always makes sure that there is food in the boxes for the kids,” volunteer Valerie Johnson said.

The Monroe County Food Bank handled more than 131,000 pounds of food in the first three months of this year, and Mr. Metdepenningen always is looking to expand the organization's influence.

In his free time, Mr. Metdepenningen enjoys golfing, fishing, and traveling with his wife, Sue. In July, they'll take a three-day cruise on the Mississippi River, and in September, they'll attend a reunion of his Navy ship's crew.

“It's almost time for me to retire from the food bank, but I'll probably stay involved in some way,” Mr. Metdepenningen said.

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