West Alabama Food Bank fights hunger with mobile pantry, community partners
1 in 8 Americans affected
By WVUA 23 News Reporter Savannah Denton
When COVID-19 showed up, it swiftly disrupted food distribution around the world, meaning many people’s access to quality food diminished. In West Alabama, COVID’s rise prevented the West Alabama Food Bank from delivering roughly 300 healthy meals a day to residents in need.
But quick thinking ensured that didn’t last long. Instead, the West Alabama Food Bank took its service on the road with a Mini Mobile Pantry, getting food where it was needed most and ensuring residents didn’t go hungry.
While the Mini Mobile Pantry is currently out of service, that doesn’t mean the food bank is slacking in its mission.
The organization is focused on getting major grants and food items delivered to its warehouse, which it then distributes to its community partners. Those partners ensure food gets to anyone who needs assistance putting meals on the table.
When many people think of a food pantry, they think of canned goods and nonperishables. And while those items are definitely on offer, the West Alabama Food Bank is ensuring its partners can hand out everything families need as part of a sustainable, healthy diet. That includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat, said West Alabama Food Bank Executive Director Jean Rykaczewski.
“We are trying to provide those healthy options, plus through the USDA programs we get a lot of produce, we get a lot of healthy foods like brown rice or lentils, garbanzo beans,” Rykaczewski said. “Some items people might not understand or not know how to use, but that’s why we are so excited about our new building. We are actually going to have a demonstration kitchen that we will be able to show people how to use the items they actually get.”
Many residents who get help from the food bank live in what’s considered a food desert, or an area with no grocery store within 25 miles.
According to Feeding America, before the start of the pandemic, the overall food insecurity rate had reached its lowest point since measurements began in the 1990s, but those improvements were upended by the pandemic. Now, 1 in 8 people are affected by food insecurity, and many of those people are older adults.
“(The Mini Mobile Pantry) was especially helpful for our low income seniors because they have a set budget,” Rykaczewski said. “Their money is not changing, they are not likely to go out and get a second job. They just don’t have enough money and they are having to make the choices of are they going to buy their medication, pay their utilities or buy food.”
Although plenty of people who wound up out of work during the pandemic are employed once again, many hard-working people need help ensuring their families can eat nutrient-rich meals.
“Keeping (food insecure individuals) as steady as possible is a great thing, and that’s what our mini mobile pantry had done,” Rykaczewski said. “Unfortunately, right now we can’t find a driver for the program. It’s a program that deals directly one-on-one, and with COVID and the flu we have not been able to bring it back at this time.”
While the Mini Mobile Pantry program is not currently running, the organization’s goal is getting it back in action.
The West Alabama Food Bank is always searching for volunteers and donors. You can learn more about signing up or donating right here.
If you need assistance with food or other necessities in West Alabama, you can call the United Way of West Alabama’s 211 Service and be put in contact with helpful services.