Food Bank and agencies struggle to fulfill need - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Food Bank and agencies struggle to fulfill need

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

July 7, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - As more Georgians struggle to get by in this slumping economy, some of the resources many depend on are also struggling. Donations to food banks are down while the number of people who need a helping hand has grown. Food Bank leaders in Albany fear they'll have to make changes if conditions don't improve.

A small building in Albany has a big mission to Love Thy Neighbor as the sign outside displays. It's inside where those three words come into play.

"This is where we bag up the groceries," said Art Shoemaker.

From canned vegetables to tuna fish, families or neighbors in need get some help. "Each family gets a bag of groceries once a month," said Shoemaker.

But there's a problem. "Our cupboards are bare right now," said Shoemaker.

It's a problem that's been growing for several months. "I'd say about three months," said Shoemaker. 500 families a month depend on help from Love Thy Neighbor and those numbers are growing. Art Shoemaker is finding it harder to fulfill the need. There's one major reason.

"The Food Bank is hurting for food so consequently we're hurting for food," said Shoemaker.

"We have our agencies out there that are begging for more food and we're just not able to get the types of food products that they need," said Food Bank of Southwest Georgia President & CEO Brett Kirkland.

The Food Bank of Southwest Georgia also has its share of bare shelves. They're getting to the end of the year on their state funded program and on top of that, donations have declined. "Also, USDA commodities have been harder to come by this year," said Kirkland.

This comes at a bad time when food prices are up and more people are needing help. Take last fiscal year for example. "We distributed almost 3.3 million pounds which was up 14 percent over last year," said Kirkland.

It costs $100,000 a month to run the Food Bank. Even with that, staff is already small. If things don't change, Kirkland worries about the future. "I see us in the future, if things don't change, having to scale back," said Kirkland.

But Kirkland is optimistic and sees the potential for progress. They just need more financial help from everyone including the community. "I'm hoping some of these major contributors will help the Food Bank out so we can get some supplies in here," said Shoemaker.

If not, Shoemaker has to get supplies for his clients elsewhere at a higher price. "Oh, three times as high at least," said Shoemaker.

That makes it harder to love thy neighbor.

Despite the struggle, The Food Bank still serves 20 counties and recently started a strategic plan to reach out and increase distribution to under-served areas. Over the past couple of weeks, they delivered more than 14,000 pounds of food through their Manna Mobile Pantry.

If you'd like to contribute to the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia, call 229-883-5959 or visit www.foodbank-swga.org.

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