Higher demand puts stress on food banks

Published 4:45 pm Monday, December 1, 2008

Dick Harmon hears the worst, especially from the elderly.

Harmon helps coordinate Joseph Ministries, a local organization that collects and distributes food to low-income families in Butler County once per month.

“They (the families) tell me or they tell my wife that if they had not got a food donation then they would not have had money to buy medicine that month,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff that just tears you up inside.”

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According to a story in Monday’s USA Today, food banks are struggling to keep up with higher demand and Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity, reported donations were up 18 percent but demand had grown between 25 and 40 percent across the country.

E. Parke Hinman, Director of the Montgomery Area Food Bank, said national demand has yet to trickle down onto the local level. The Montgomery Area Food Bank services 25 counties in central Alabama, including Butler County.

“Our donors, especially our money donors, are still sticking with us even as times have gotten harder for them,” he said.

Hinman said food banks in Alabama are also benefiting from the Food, Conservation and Energy Act passed into law by Congress in May.

“One of the things they did was they increased the funding for farm subsidies, so we’re getting a little more support there,” he said.

Joseph Ministries has partnered with the Montgomery Area Food Bank to provide food for over 250 families in Butler County, said Vicki Manley, Agency Relations Coordinator.

Harmon said that number has increased from 190 families last year. The organization works with the Butler County Department of Human Resources to ensure only needy families receive the food.

“We get the food for about 20 cents a pound,” he said. “Our donations right now relative to the number of families we’re helping is a little bit tight, but we’re going to keep going.”

Harmon estimated Joseph Ministries spends anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000 on food annually. The funds come from local individuals and businesses as well as donors from across the country, he said.

“That’s the wonderful thing about this ministry,” he said. “I’ve never worried about having the money.”

Hinman said the Montgomery food bank would love to partner with more agencies in Butler County. The food bank currently has partnerships with a number of local churches, as well as the Greenville YMCA and Healthy Kids at the Butler County Education and Community Learning Center. The Walnut Street Church of Christ distributes Senior Supplement Boxes – boxes of non-perishable food weighting approximately 25-35 pounds exclusively for the elderly – during the third week of each month.

Partnership with the Montgomery Area Food Bank is open to churches and charities with a 501(c) non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service, said Manley. For more information contact the MAFB at 334-263-3784.