The Beginning – 1960s & 1970s
Our story began in 1968 when the Reverend Msgr. Thomas Finn, director of Catholic Social Services, asked Sr. Donna Kinney to take over the “Christmas Bureau,” the organization’s holiday help program for the poor. Sr. Donna would agree to run the program if she could manage it as the Christmas Store, where those in need would pay a nominal fee to buy toys and clothing. She believed that material assistance should be given in a way that enhanced recipients’ self-esteem and preserved their dignity. That included giving shoppers a choice of what they received.
And so the Christmas Store was born. That first year, the Store set up shop at St. Patrick Parish in Covington and helped 30 families with food and used toys. The Store moved to Mother of God School in 1969, the second in a series of loaned and increasingly larger venues needed to accommodate the program’s growth.
In 1973, community advocate Betty Zimmer, who’d begun working in the Store a year earlier, succeeded Sr. Donna as director. In 1975, the organization incorporated as Be Concerned, an independent 501(c)3 charity.
Our Evolution – 1980s
Fast forward to 1985. At Betty Zimmer’s urging, Covington developer Bill Butler furnished Be Concerned its first permanent home, the former Sears Garden Shop (now Duveneck Square), at 714 Washington Street, just a block from Mother of God.
While volunteers remodeled the space, Betty determined it should host a year-round free pantry. Launched in 1987, the program quickly expanded its service area from just Covington to Kenton, Campbell, and Boone counties.
Recent history – 2000s
The period from 2015 to 2020 was one of dramatic change and growth for Be Concerned. In 2016, the agency started its first delivery program, Senior Food Delivery. Later that year, the agency moved from Washington Street to make way for Duveneck Square. The new home was at 1100 Pike Street in Covington.
In 2019, Be Concerned merged with United Ministries and now operates the pantry and thrift store there. And in 2020, Be Concerned set service records in the spring and again at Christmas as it mobilized to help families cast into crisis by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Be Concerned’s aggressive push to help those that are hungry has made it the largest free food program in Northern Kentucky. In 2020, it served 6,746 people in 2,918 distinct households, both records. We maintain our traditional reliance on volunteers, who enable our programs to run at a third of the cost if we were paid staff only. We retain the choice model that Sr. Donna Kinney started more than a half century ago, with volunteers and staff alike upholding the mantra that remains today – just as important as what we give our shoppers is how we give it: with a smile, a hug, an encouraging word.
As the late Dolores Henson, one of our most beloved and long-serving volunteers, noted: “The rule is, it doesn’t hurt to smile. If someone is rude to you, don’t be rude back. Our shoppers have been pushed down enough in their lives. We want to show them some sunshine.”
Listen to our Executive Director in this engaging podcast as he tackles topics like food insecurity, the impact of the pandemic on our community, and social capital.
Be Concerned is deeply committed to honoring the dignity and humanity of all persons.
Our purpose is to assist the people of Northern Kentucky in obtaining basic necessities for life.