CORTLAND - Harry and Debbie King say they could never do the work of running the Cortland Area Cares food pantry by themselves.
The couple, who have a combined 38 years at the pantry, say they are flattered for being honored with a Community Star award for the work they do at the pantry. Yet they are quick to point out that it is a team effort that makes it work, and they can do nothing without the others who are involved.
''We get wonderful support from this community. We get a lot of volunteers,'' Debbie King said.
Harry King loads boxes of food at the Cortland Food Pantry, where he and his wife have a combined 38 years of service.
The couple are involved with the pantry through their church, St. Robert Catholic Church, one of seven churches in the area to help run the pantry. The pantry serves families who live in the Lakeview School District.
Debbie started off the family's involvment in the pantry by offering to help 25 years ago. She said she was raising the couple's three children and decided to help out after a woman in their church who was running the pantry stepped down.
''It was something I really wanted to do,'' she said.
NAMES:?Harry and Debbie King
Ages: Harry 68; Debbie 69
Years living there: 44 years
Family: Two sons and a daughter and nine grandchildren
At first, she said she had doubts, especially as more and more people needed help, but she said she was able to stick it out.
''I didn't think I could do it, but I did,'' she said. ''It just grew so much.''
Her husband, who was a teacher for 30 years, including 27 in the Howland school district, would help out when he could while he was working. But when he retired 13 years ago, he began increasing his workload at the pantry.
''Once he retired, he got drafted,'' Debbie joked about her husband.
Ruth Ann Kozlevcar, who volunteers with the Kings and helped nominate them for the award, said the couple go above and beyond their work at the pantry. She said they field calls from people who have no food - sometimes late at night - and they will not hestitate to deliver food to people's doors.
''Harry and Debbie will not let anyone go one day without food,'' Kozlevcar said.
She said the couple always credit those who help them, but it is the Kings who make the pantry go, Kozlevcar said.
''They do 99 percent of the work,'' she said. ''They're here almost 24/7.''
Harry has a large van that comes in handy for picking up food from different places. Several area businesses will help out with donations of money or food or other products. Volunteers help to stock the building that serves as a warehouse next to Cortland Elementary School. Harry King sorts the food and other products into different categories with help from volunteers while he and his wife split the paperwork.
''We're here at least three or four days a week,'' Harry King said.
One recent morning Harry and Debbie organized a caravan of four vehicles to pick up food for the pantry at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Youngstown. Debbie King comes armed with a list made out in advance. She and her husband both say they want to provide extras to those who come to the pantry because lots of families need those extras or can't afford to buy them. That can include things like toothpaste or pet food.
Fundraisers also help. The landlord for the pantry, George Rogers, has a large Christmas party that helps out every year as do the Rotary and Lions clubs, who raise large amounts of money for the pantry as well. A lot of times, local business owners will chip in and give donations to the Kings.
''They have the money, and they know we are very good stewards,'' Harry King said.
The Kings also take donations of clothing and appliances, often from people having garage sales donating the items they could not sell. Those items also end up at the pantry to be given away.
''People call us up with their garage sale leftovers,'' Harry King said.
Harry King said the paperwork can be almost numbing, as well as the picking up of food, stocking the pantry and then giving it away.
The pantry services children, seniors and families and the numbers have risen as the economy has worsened. Debbie King said the fastest growing segment of the population they are servicing now are adults without children, especially people who lose their jobs late in life and have no training for another one.
The Kings also give credit to the couple they partner with, Kay and Bill Aiken, who attend Bazetta Christian Church. Debbie King said they can expect to be nominated for a Community Star award next year by two recipients of the award this year.