Season of giving underway for Middle Georgia Community Food Bank

lfabian@macon.comNovember 19, 2013 

Many Middle Georgians travel to Macon for holiday bargains, including Mary Baker and Nancy Holbrook.

Unlike those headed to shopping centers, the Milledgeville women drive to the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank.

Recently, they loaded up Baker’s Honda CRV with boxes of food for needy families coming to First Presbyterian Church.

“It’s very inexpensive, so we’re able to get more for our money,” Baker said before backing the car up to the loading dock.

The Milledgeville church has been distributing food since March, but had its greatest demand earlier this month when nearly two dozen hungry families sought help.

“It cleaned us out,” said Baker, who wondered whether November cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are having an effect.

“There might be more for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Holbrook said.

The food bank is beginning to feel the drain from the holiday demand, but the public is stepping up to help.

Canned goods by the armful are pouring into AmStar 16 theater on Zebulon Road.

Last week, volunteers from Esme’s Heart toted dozens that will wind up on the shelves in time for holiday distribution.

The nonprofit organization that formed out of Twilight Moms chose a food drive for their first charity event four years ago.

“We have a group of givers and it is just part of what we do,” said Cindy Adrien, president of Esme’s Heart.

Adrien credits WDEN radio personality Laura Starling with encouraging groups to donate as the holidays approach.

Starling invited all Middle Georgia high schools to collect nonperishable food at football games and she is a cheerleader for Am-Star’s own food drive that ends this week.

The winning school will receive a private IMAX screening for 100 people to see “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” while snacking on free popcorn and soft drinks.

Movie patrons bringing 10 cans of food also receive free popcorn. Those donating 300 items register in a grand prize drawing for a 2014 season pass.

Keeping bellies full all year

Food donations only account for a fraction of the goods leaving the food bank, which distributed 8.3 million pounds of food in 2012, and is on pace to do the same this year.

The food bank distributes goods to more than 300 agencies serving 100,000 people in 24 counties, said Doug Rohme, the agency coordinator for the food bank.

“But there are probably 150,000 people who are food insecure,” he said. “People who do not know where their next meals are coming from.”

Plus, the full impact of this year’s restrictions on food stamps won’t be known for a few months, Rohme said.

Two of the 300 agencies receiving food recently reported about a 50 percent increase in new families, he said.

Rohme can’t tell whether it’s the reduction in benefits, the holiday food rush or a new segment of the population seeking aid -- members of the working class who can’t make ends meet.

“People working two or three jobs and took a pay reduction,” Rohme said. “Those are people who didn’t step forward before now.”

Although feeding people is a big push around Christmas and Thanksgiving, the food bank, which Rohme said is the largest of several across Georgia, is tasked with keeping bellies full all year.

The food bank sees the biggest rush for food in May as the agency struggles to fill backpacks for an increasing number of students who rely on free or reduced lunches during the school year.

More than 90 percent of public school students qualify for the aid, he said.

On Thursday, the Macon Exchange Club will present a total of $6,000 to local Backpack ministries.

That money will buy nearly $60,000 worth of food, said Exchange Club member Bobby George.

Although food donations help, Rohme said the food bank purchases nearly 80 percent. It comes by the truckload at reduced cost, which stretches dollars.

Frozen turkeys on the loading dock Friday were ordered months earlier.

“The money stream is always essential,” he said. “There’s always increasing need mainly because we look ahead.”

Monetary donations meet a variety of needs.

Annual utility bills at the warehouse run $35,000 to $40,000 to keep the lights on and freezer at zero degrees, Rohme said.

Upwards of 92 cents of every dollar still buys food, he said.

He encourages those wanting to help to donate through the website at mgcfb.org.

Year-end tax savings are a bonus for contributions that never spoil and have an infinite shelf life to last through the year.

“People are just as hungry in the summer time or in the fall or in the spring as they are in the winter time.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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