Wiregrass Area Food Bank fights hunger 365 days a year and needs your help

The Wiregrass Area Food Bank works year-round to keep the Wiregrass well fed.
The Wiregrass Area Food Bank works year-round to keep the Wiregrass well fed.
Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 3:30 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - During this time of year, many people feel inspired to give back a little extra and there is always a need to fill, especially when it comes to hunger.

The Wiregrass Area Food Bank works year-round to keep the Wiregrass well fed.

“We fight hunger here at the Wiregrass Area Food Bank 365 days a year,” Julie Gonzalez, the assistant director of the Wiregrass Area Food Bank, said.

It’s a fight the food bank challenges you to join. They serve those who face food emergencies in Houston, Henry, Dale, Coffee, Geneva, and the southern half of Barbour counties.

“There are about 47,000 people here in the Wiregrass that we consider food insecure,” Gonzalez said. “That means that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. To break that down, that’s roughly one in six of our neighbors and friends that will be going to bed, no knowing if they will eat tomorrow.”

The food bank also works to stop food from going to waste in a landfill.

“If food is still good to be redistributed, it doesn’t need to be in a landfill somewhere,” David Hanks, chief executive officer of Wiregrass Area Food Bank, said. “So, that’s where the food bank comes in. All of our local donors, we go pick up, we sort through the food, and if the product is still good, we redistribute it.”

It’s a mission Hanks and Gonzalez has been on for years and plan to continue.

“We do our best to make sure that those who are in need of help, those who are suffering from a food crisis or from just hunger in general, that there’s an agency that has food available to serve them,” Gonzalez said.

The food bank does not distribute directly to people. The 22-thousand square foot warehouse serves as a supply house.

“We distribute that to about 100 agencies who are spread throughout the Wiregrass, those counties that we serve,” Gonzalez said. “Our job is to make sure that they have the grocery products that they need to serve the individuals that they take care of.”

This independent non-profit has a small staff and relies heavily on the help of volunteers to get the job done.

“We depend on probably about 200 volunteers a month, so we would welcome more assistance in that area,” Hanks said. “They help drive our mission of feeding the hungry from the heart.”

Mary Ann Jenkins is one of those volunteers, serving at the food bank for the last 19 years.

“It needs doing and we enjoy it, and the people that we service need the food that we give them,” Jenkins said.

Which is why the food bank is on the search for more advocates.

“We need more feet on the ground to help collect those food donations so that we can bring them here into the food bank,” Gonzalez said. “We do have a staff, but our staff is not big enough for the job that lies before us.”

Regular distribution at the food bank is between three to four million pounds of food each year. During the months of November through January, the food bank accomplishes about 40 percent of that, which is about a million pounds. To put their growth in perspective, the first year the food bank distributed 25-thousand pounds.

“It has absolutely grown over the years, and the reason for that is because there is a need here in the Wiregrass, but also it’s because the support for the food bank has grown exponentially over the years because people realize what we’re doing, and they want to lock arms with us and join in the fight to end hunger,” Gonzalez said.

Reaching this astonishing distribution number is all possible thanks to the 50-plus food drives they have each year, both big and small.

“It might just be a small food drive that they do in lieu of birthday gifts,” Hanks said.

Every item goes into the hands of someone in need and makes all the difference.

“Those food drives that are just students in classrooms collecting from their peers, civic groups … something like that, those small drives are just as important and every can matters. If you were hungry, that can would matter to you… so every food drive is important,” Gonzalez said.

The food bank partners with the Feeding America National Food Bank Network. The food that comes to them is free.

Despite that, they still have to cover costs of shipping and handling, which is about 9-cents per pound to actually get that food into the food bank.

“When you donate a dollar to the food bank, that means we have access to 11 pounds and that means that 11 pounds will create 9 meals,” Gonzalez said. “So, every dollar donated to the Wiregrass Area Food Bank represents 9 meals for someone who’s in need. That means that crisp 10-dollar bill you have in your wallet right now can feed a family of 4 for a week.”

Like many nonprofits this year, the food bank has faced challenges.

“Everybody’s experiencing the same thing with inflation, food banks are experiencing the same thing,” Hanks said. “We don’t have the inventory that we usually do this time of year, going into the busiest time of the year. So, we are looking for a lot of assistance from food drives.”

But they are not running low on the passion to stop hunger in the Wiregrass.

“We have a good time; we work hard but we have a good time,” Jenkins said.

There are three points of contributing that lead to a well-fed Wiregrass – donating your time, your dollars, or food itself.

To host a food drive, you can call the bank at (334)794-9775 and let them know what you are wanting to accomplish so they can support you and help you be successful in your efforts.

“We want you to be successful because if we help you, that means you can help us,” Gonzalez said.

To volunteer or donate, you can give them a call or email the food bank at: dhanks@wiregrassfoodbank.com

Click here to view their website where you can also view available dates to volunteer.

“We do try to plan out our volunteers so that we don’t have so many people here that we’re tripping over one another,” Gonzalez said. “We try to spread people out a little bit so that all of our needs are covered, and we don’t want anybody to come and volunteer and think that their time is wasted. That is the absolute enemy of volunteerism. So, do call us and let us know you’re coming.”

If you’re in need of food assistance, the food bank recommends you call Wiregrass 211. This is a partnering agency who will connect you to the food pantries in the Wiregrass and they will assist you on where to go and what to do and their hours of operation.

“Please don’t wait until your cabinets are already empty to call and ask for help,” Gonzalez said. “When you know you’re going to be in a food emergency, give us some time to help you before we’re absolutely at the last minute and trying to scramble to do things. Don’t wait until the last minute, call when you know you need help.”

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