12 Mar Plant Gaston APSO members lend hands to fill needs of the hungry
By Donna Cope, Alabama NewsCenter
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Not knowing where your next meal is coming from is tough: It’s not only physically daunting, but it’s emotionally trying, especially for kids.
“Imagine not knowing for days on end when you may eat again,” said Jim Jones, who, with wife Linda, runs Alabama Childhood Food Solutions (ACFS) in Sylacauga. “There are a lot of hungry people out there.”
That realization was the impetus behind the Joneses’ founding of the food bank in 2012. What began as a two-person operation has mushroomed into a full-fledged food bank that provides sustenance to thousands of families each year.
“I never dreamed we’d deliver more food than my pick-up truck could carry,” said Jones, reflecting on the project that has assisted families in Calhoun, Coosa, Randolph, Shelby and Talladega counties. The project totally depends on the volunteerism and financial gifts of hundreds of people who desire to banish childhood hunger in Alabama.
“The need is real,” Jones said. “This past year, we helped 2,000 seriously food-insecure families and thousands of students who may not have food when they leave school for the day.”
The food bank receives financial support from 34 churches, 20 businesses, about 1,000 individuals and several charitable groups. ACFS partners with the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and Feeding America. In the past two years, the Alabama Power Foundation has provided grants of more than $25,000 to the food bank, with another gift pending in 2016.
“Every donation is some child’s next meal,” Jones said. “I want people to know that Alabama Power is doing more than just lighting the world. They are feeding those who can’t help themselves.”
Fulfilling the Mission: ‘Go and Be Filled’
Since August, Webb and several other Plant Gaston employees have helped the food bank, doing everything from sorting food to filling carts to carrying food to clients’ cars.
During food distribution days on the first and third Thursday each month, up to 40 volunteers are needed to help distribute food, Jones said. Webb, along with Gaston Plant Manager Brian Heinfeld, Lee Coxwell, Steve Culberson, Aldin Francisco, Ricky Harris, Christina Jackson, Frank Jackson, James Jones, Terez Kelly, Barbara McGinnis, Wanda Sherbert, David Sims, Jay Tomlin, Jim Waddle and Jasmine Woods have joined other volunteers working feverishly to fill food bags for underserved families.
With approval from team leaders or managers, Gaston volunteers work an 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift at the food bank.
“We go with the ebb and flow of outages and regular work,” Webb said. “At the food bank, I may be working in meat packing or storing items in the bread cooler.”
As families walk down the line, they select the food they want. It’s physically strenuous work for volunteers, who fill a large box with fresh produce, milk, meat and canned goods. The box travels down a conveyor that was donated by Wal-Mart. At the end of the line, a volunteer picks up the 50-pound box, places it on a cart and delivers the food to the recipient’s car.
Webb and other Gaston employees often fill food bags for children sponsored through ACFS’ backpack project. In the past three years, the food bank supplied 767,000 meals and snacks to more than 2,000 elementary- and high-school students who otherwise would have been hungry.
“You just don’t know the number of kids in a hunger situation,” said Webb, who realizes her two children are very blessed. “There are so many food-deprived children right in the neighborhood. This is nourishing, healthy food. It’s amazing to see.”
When Gaston APSO heard that ACFS needed a pallet stacker, members donated $3,400 for the purchase. Webb always returns from volunteering with a heart of gratitude: It’s opened her eyes to the hunger around her.
“I see children who come in with their families and elderly folks who can barely drive,” said Webb, a Gaston chemical technician for nine years. “Seeing it in real life, it just changes you. You’re busy the entire time you’re there, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s absolutely worth it. The look you see on people’s faces, they are so appreciative. It’s worth it to see how we can touch lives.”
Culberson said that helping at the food bank is one of the most heart-rending things he’s done in his 40 years at Alabama Power.
“When I worked there in November, there was a young couple there to get food, and they were holding a toddler,” he said. “I wished them a happy Thanksgiving, and the man told me, ‘Yes sir, we’re going to have one now. We can finally put food in our refrigerator.’”
“It stunned me,” said Culberson, who works in Planning. “As long as there’s nothing pressing at the plant, I want to be a part of this.”
“For me, if somebody is hungry or needs some clothes, I’m going to do everything I can do to help them get something to eat,” Culberson said. “I’m trying to give back from being blessed, what little bit I can. I appreciate our company for allowing us to help. It’s a blessing to not only the people who receive the food, but I get a blessing, too.”
Fighting Childhood Hunger at Home
Families must meet minimum financial guidelines, based on receiving free or reduced-price lunches and/or food stamps. ACFS gives food to more than 550 families by appointment.
“Most families are hard-working parents who don’t have money for food once they’ve met needs for transportation, clothing and housing,” said Jones, who doesn’t receive a salary for his efforts. “There’s often little left for children.”
As members of Double Oak Community Church in Mount Laurel, Jim and Linda have worked in 24 international mission trips. One day, as the couple drove through Sylacauga, Jones said, “I was struck by the needs in our own backyard.”
For an outfit born in the back of a pick-up, ACFS has made tremendous strides. When Jones and his volunteers needed a building to work from, Marble City Baptist Church in Sylacauga came to the rescue, giving the food bank a five-year lease at $1 a year.
“In 2012, we shared 2,400 bags of food with the help of many stores,” Jones said. “Three years later, we gave 64,928 bags of food. We’ve delivered 440,000 meals and snacks to children at the schools. When God provides food, I accept it to give to the hungry.”
“We pick up short-dated food four days a week and store it,” Jones said. On a recent Monday morning, for instance, volunteers busily packed away 4,000 pounds of food: fresh meat, vegetables, apples and citrus fruits, and bakery goods.
Making a Difference in Lives of Families
“If we can get people to eat better, their life and nutrition will be better,” Jones believes. “We’ve seen a 3-percent decrease in juvenile crime in Shelby, Coosa and Talladega counties and, although we can’t prove it, we think we’re a contributing factor.
“If kids come to school fed, the Talladega Board of Education suggests that kids do better in school and don’t act out at school,” Jones said. “We are an active part of that, partnering with Feeding America’s Store to Door program.
ACFS Volunteer Coordinator Don Stuckey said, “Many of the food-insecure children are getting free breakfasts and free lunches at school, but many do not get supper or food on the weekend. We try to meet those needs.”
Jones is constantly amazed at the outpouring of support for the food bank. He believes it’s possible to end hunger in Alabama, without government intervention.
“We all are making a difference, Alabama Power and all of these churches, and all these individuals,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, I know I’ve done everything I could do to be God’s hands and feet in this place.”
This story was originally published on www.AlabamaNewsCenter.com.