The Montgomery Area Food Bank is based in the capital city, but it serves almost half of the state, helping hundreds of thousands of hungry people and addressing food insecurity head on.
“I used to have a certain picture of who might be coming to a food bank for help. Now, poverty is more of a mosaic to me. It can look like any one of us because we are all just one lost job away,” said Richard Deem, Chief Executive Officer of the Montgomery Area Food Bank (MAFB).
Deem and his team serve more than half the state, covering 35 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Included in its service areas are 300,000 food-insecure residents, meaning 300,000 people who don’t have reliable access to food. “There are hungry people out there. They are children; they are seniors; and they are everything in between,” said Deem. “That’s why it’s so important to me every day to make sure this story is told.”
Grown to Serve
When the MAFB opened its doors in 1986, it served around a dozen counties in and around the River Region. However, as nearby Central Alabama food banks closed over the years, Montgomery picked up their service areas. Today, the MAFB’s support extends to more than 800 local community agencies throughout 24,921 square miles of metropolitan and rural areas of our state.
While emergency food boxes are available for those who might walk up to the food bank’s office in Montgomery, most of the food from the MAFB is distributed to its partner agencies, which then put it in the hands of people in need. The organization’s entire philanthropic and logistical efforts are orchestrated by a team of 30 employees, aided by a dedicated group of volunteers and board members. “Last year, our team distributed 28 million pounds of food,” Deem said, “All done at no cost to those receiving assistance.”
With the substantial growth of its service area, the food bank itself has gone through multiple expansions to meet the needs of those they serve. In the early 90s, the warehouse was around 24,000 square feet. Today, MAFB has more than 100,000 square feet of warehouse space, and another 19,000 will soon be available thanks to the recent purchase of an adjacent building. “We don’t bring food in here to keep it forever. We move it in here, and it’s quickly sent out again. However, we always have to have the ability to store more food,” Deem said. “For example, we were recently contacted by FEMA to accept a donation of 100 pallets of food. If we didn’t have the space, we might have had to turn it down. With this additional space, we shouldn’t ever have to do that.”
Maximizing Donation Dollars
Food donations from agencies, businesses and individuals are just one way the MAFB acquires its food. They also have partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as Feeding America, which is the nation’s fourth-largest charity. The connection with Feeding America is vital to its ability to maximize monetary donations, providing buying power to secure heavily discounted foods. “The Montgomery Area Food Bank can acquire 6.5 pounds of food for every $1 donated. To put that into perspective, when you purchase a can of soup or corn, the least you’d probably pay for that can is $0.48. We can purchase that same can of corn for $0.18 thanks to our partnership with Feeding America and our ability to bid on trucks of food and negotiate lower prices,” Deem said.
For that reason, monetary donations are the most cost-effective way to make the biggest impact. It’s why the MAFB hosts what they call Fund and Food Drives, driving home the point that monetary donations are just as important, if not more important than food donations.
Local businesses, like WSFA 12 News, regularly host these types of donation drives. “WSFA and the Montgomery Area Food Bank have had a wonderful partnership over the years with our annual Summer Fund and Food Drive as well as the WSFA 12’s Day of Giving event,” said Mark Bunting, General Manager for WSFA 12 News. “MAFB is vital to the welfare of those less fortunate in our community. Our goal in partnering with them is not only to minimize the need but also to create awareness of the growing hunger crisis in the River Region.”
Strength Of Support
Learning of the dire situations facing people in our community has heavily impacted Helen Crump Wells, a shareholder with Rushton Stakely and board member for MAFB. “Serving on the board has opened my eyes to the sheer prevalence of hunger in Central Alabama, with approximately 25 percent of the adult population and one-third of children being food-insecure,” she said. “Rushton Stakely participates in food drives, and many have supported the food bank in other ways. I believe our efforts to help the hungry help us to appreciate how fortunate we are.”
This and other examples of community support are things Deem will never take for granted. “I brag on the support of the River Region almost everywhere I go,” he said. “We get support from a lot of outlying places, but if you tell the River Region you have a need, people here show up to meet that need.”
MAX4Kids Charity Golf Tournament Raises More Than $30,000
In October, the MAX4Kids Foundation hosted its 20th Annual MAX4Kids Charity Golf Tournament at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville. With 172 golfers and 70 dedicated sponsors, the fundraising event was a huge success and netted more than $30,000. At this year’s event, the MAX4Kids Foundation presented Tie and Doll with a $1,000 donation and Kid One Transport with a $5,000 donation. “The MAX4Kids Charity Golf Tournament is our biggest fundraiser each year,” said Kenneth Hill, VP of Mortgage Services and MAX4Kids President. “We are thankful for the continued support of MAX’s vendors, customers, and the community.” The MAX4Kids Foundation benefits children’s charities in the River Region and East Alabama, as well as the MAX4Kids Scholarship Program.
River Region Rotary Club Donates Thousands
Rotary Park in downtown Montgomery will soon see improvements and increased greenspace thanks to a $12,000 donation from the Montgomery Rotary Club, Montgomery Sunrise Rotary Club and Montgomery Sunset Rotary Club.
Coming improvements will further activate the space as a gathering place for those living, working or visiting downtown. Plans call for new picnic tables, umbrellas for shade, improved signage, streetscape enhancements providing for permanent food truck parking and more.
Opened in September 2017, Rotary Park inhabits an existing greenspace adjacent to the parking deck at Montgomery City Hall at the corner of Coosa and Bibb Streets. Development officials chose the site due to its central location, size, treescape and underutilization. The park preserves the original fountain and mature flowering trees. Pet and Playground Products, a national company based in the River Region and owned by Montgomery resident Robert Price, provided all fencing, equipment and pet agility amenities for the dog park portion of Rotary Park.