For the Tuscaloosa area, food aid is mostly held at the West Alabama Food Bank in Northport. The food bank serves the nine counties of west Alabama: Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Pickens, Sumter, Green, Hale, Bibb, and finally, Tuscaloosa. According to the food bank’s website, Alabama is one of the worst states as far as statistics. One in every five children and one in every four seniors in Alabama lives at or below the poverty line. The website states that the unemployment rate of the service area is more than 16 percent in some cases.
Henry Lipsey has been in his position since 2007.
“I had just retired, and one of my good friends asked me if I would come sit in as the executive director until they could find a new one,” Lipsey said. “I’ve been sitting in for about seven years now.
The food bank distributes to 84 agencies within the nine counties it serves. These agencies are made up of a myriad of different groups, from churches to soup kitchens to halfway houses. According to Lipsey, the food bank sends out 12,000 pounds of food each day to all of west Alabama. The Tuscaloosa area makes up for about a third of the need.
“There are somewhere around 64,000 individuals living below the poverty level in west Alabama, and 30,000 in the Tuscaloosa area alone,” Lipsey said.
There are four basic sources of food coming in to the food bank, which then repackages and redistributes the food for individuals in need. Some food comes from donations, from families to churches, to food drives. Truckers often bring surplus goods to the bank if they need to clear out their trailer to haul other goods back to their previous location. The two biggest food drives each year are Beat Auburn Beat Hunger, which takes place before the Iron Bowl in November, and the United States Postal Workers drive.
The second source is through retail stores like Wal-Mart or Winn-Dixie. When a store stops selling a specific product or type of food, the shelf space the product is taking up is more valuable than the product itself, so stores donate their overstock to the bank. A program through the USDA called TFAB is another source of food income.
Finally, the food bank buys a good bit of food on a regular basis to supplement what’s already available, and to make sure there isn’t a shortage. Lipsey oversees all of the operations at the food bank, from donations to distribution. The bank warehouse is 10,000 square feet with on-site cold storage.
“There is someone running some sort of food drive for us almost every day,” Lipsey said. “Churches are a steady flow at the food bank, and most agencies are faith-based in some way.
On any given day, six to ten volunteers work at the food bank, but there is always a need for more hands to work. Several individuals show up day in and day out, according to Lipsey, just to help out.
Programs sponsored by other organizations also source their food from the bank. One such program is Secret Meals for Hungry Children, sponsored by the Alabama Credit Union. The food bank puts over a 1000 meals in students’ backpacks each week, in collaboration with the credit union. Teachers working closely with the students usually do most of the on-site work (deciding which children need meals and putting the meals in the backpacks without other students noticing), but the food bank distributes and packages all of the meals themselves.
The food bank also supplies several mobile food pantries in the area, trucks that are equipped to cook and distribute food to those on the street. The bank uses one food pantry to distribute to the residents of the housing authority in Tuscaloosa.
“We get donated freezers—I call them well used and much loved—to store cold food on the trucks and in the warehouse,” Lipsey said.
The donated freezers are just one item among many that exemplify the idea behind the food bank: the generosity of one person can help out many individuals with hard work and patience.