Couple gives back with food pantry

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Penny Kovakas stands in front of bags of food she and husband Jim give away twice a month to those in need in Wilsonville and surrounding communities. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

WILSONVILLE – Two years ago, Jim Kovakas lay on what he thought was his deathbed. He said he was within 15 minutes of dying from colon complications.

When he made it home alive, the now 75-year-old Kovakas said he figured there had to be some reason the good Lord spared his life.

After speaking with a priest at his church, he said he found the answer: to feed the hungry.

And for last year, that’s exactly what he and wife Penny have done.

They operate a food pantry out of a renovated home off Highway 431. The second and fourth Friday of every month, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., people from Wilsonville and surrounding communities line up for free bags of groceries.

Most of the food items are donated. In the past, when private donations haven’t covered the need, the couple has dipped into their savings to provide food.

The pantry got a huge boost this week when Alabama Power donated 1,040 pounds of canned goods collected at its Gaston Steam Plant.

The pantry opened in December 2010, when the couple finished renovating the old Weening house, built in the early 1900s. The house is next door to their home and was renovated specifically for the food pantry.

Penny Kovakas stands in front of the renovated home she and husband Jim now use as a food pantry to serve those in need. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

When it first started, eight families would come for food. It grew to include as many as 45 families. Each bag of food has a Bible verse attached.

Born and raised in Gary, Ind., the couple has lived in Wilsonville for the last 35 years. They are members of The Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham.

The food pantry is located at 658 Highway 31. To donate items, call Penny Kovakas at 365-6001.