Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, countless Americans will take the time out of their busy lives to volunteer at charities that serve their communities. This year, Opelika-Auburn News and others are recognizing the good work of one local nonprofit, the Food Bank of East Alabama.
While you can find such food banks in nearly every county in the country, the Food Bank of East Alabama is an institution. Since its founding in 1993, the food bank has grown to serve seven counties, which include Chambers County, Lee County, Macon County, Tallapoosa County, Russell County, Barbour County, and Randolph County. According to Opelika-Auburn News, the organization has donated more than 5 million pounds of food through more than 200 partner organizations.
However, the food bank is actually so large that it isn’t actually a food bank in the traditional sense.
“We’re more of a distribution hub,” Martha Henk, Executive Director of the Food Bank’s headquarters in Auburn, told Opelika-Auburn News. “Our mission is to gather the best supply of food that we can and distribute it to our seven counties. Food pantries are where people go directly for assistance and the Food Bank is the place that provides the food for the pantries.”
According to the Food Bank of East Alabama, one in six Americans struggles with hunger on a regular basis, and that includes millions of young people. However, in Alabama, one in five people are food insecure. The average American eats about 66.5 pounds of beef every year, and the cost of feeding a small family can be immense.
How does the food bank serve so many Alabama residents year after year? Through donations, volunteers, and community partnerships.
For instance, since 1994 the students at The University of Alabama have organized the annual Beat Auburn Beat Hunger event. In the months leading up to the Iron Bowl, students, teachers, and alumni work together to collect as much canned and nonperishable food as possible, and the students at the Univetsiry of Auburn do the same.
In a survey of students who participated in school fundraisers, 51% said they simply wanted to be more involved in their school, while 34% said it was a great way to show their school spirit. The annual Beat Auburn Beat Hunger food drive gives students at two major universities the chance to do some good and show off their school pride by putting a rivalry to a higher purpose.
In 2017, the University of Auburn collected 232,544 pounds of food, while the University of Alabama raised 260,453 pounds. That’s nearly 500,000 pounds of food that can be distributed to Alabama families in need.
Food banks don’t just accept canned goods, they accept nonperishable foodstuffs such as peanut butter. Americans eat roughly 120 million pounds of peanut butter every year, and it’s an energy-rich food source that’s perfect for food drives. However, in addition to food, the Food Bank of East Alabama also accepts household necessities such as toilet paper and detergent.
Many Americans already their money or possessions to help people in need around the world. About 14.3 million tons of donated clothing and textiles help clothe countless families around the world. However, there are still many people who need help a little closer to home, and each month the food bank serves 410,000 pounds of food to residents of Chambers County and East Alabama.
“If you ask people what it takes to have a strong and vital community, one of the things we would all agree on is that the basic human needs of all of the residents need to be met,” Henk told Opelika-Auburn News.
To donate to or volunteer with the food bank before the Christmas holidays, visit the organization’s website.