During the cold, winter months, Christina Harris is glad she isn’t forced to choose between heat and food for her family.
Each day, her children, along with nearly 1,700 others in their area, get a hot meal through Kids Café, a program of Feeding the Valley Food Bank in Midland, Georgia.
“The kids won’t go hungry, and I won’t go hungry myself,” said Harris of the meals at Kids Café — support that becomes even more important during the holidays and summer when kids are out of school.
Feeding the Valley is one of 200 food banks receiving food and money through the joint Wells Fargo and Feeding America Holiday Food Bank program, which began Nov. 13 and continues through Dec. 31.
“After I come to the Kids Café and I have yummy food, I feel great, because I ate and I’m not hungry,” said Naomi Lowe, 9, after a Kids Café dinner at the Wilson Apartments in Columbus, Georgia — one of 28 sites for the program.
David Shemwell, Administrator, Feeding the Valley Food Bank:
We hear stories of kids going two and three days without a dinner meal. So our mission with Kids Café is to reach out to these families so that the children have a good, solid nutritional meal for evening.
Deborah Thomas, Feeding the Valley Food Bank:
It’s really about giving the kids a home cooked meal.
Currently with our 28 sites we have — during the school year, we average about 15 to 1700 children every day when we do our feeding programs. In the summertime, we beef up, we add our rural feeding sites, we’ll do about 24 to 2500 meals.
Princella Golden, parent:
I have three girls.
We go to the Kids Café every day. We know when we don’t have no food, that’s where we go eat at.
After I come to the Kids Café and I have yummy food, I feel great, because I ate and I’m not feeling cranky no more.
It’s hard, when you don’t know where the next meal is gonna come from. When you have to pay a bill. You know you have to feed your kids first, and you go hungry in order for your kids to eat. It’s hard being a single parent.
Christina Harris, Parent:
We were receiving food stamps, but they had gotten cut off, and we had absolutely no food to eat. I was sitting here crying, struggling, figuring out how my kids were going to eat.
Kids Café, it helps out. The kids won’t go hungry. I won’t go hungry myself. I know that they’re eating, and they’re also getting a nutritious meal.
It’s not a good feeling to be hungry. So when you get full, you know you’re a different person.
‘The support we’ve seen … is inspiring’
In addition to food collection bins stationed at each of Wells Fargo’s 5,700 bank branches, the company is also offering customers the opportunity to donate money to Feeding America through Wells Fargo ATMs or online at wellsfargo.com/foodbank. This year’s Holiday Food Bank program also includes a pop-up food bank tour of nine cities across the U.S.
Wells Fargo kicked off the 2018 Holiday Food Bank program Nov. 13 with a $4 million grant to Feeding America, and is matching monetary donations up to $1 million, for a total possible grant to Feeding America of $5 million.
The total would help provide 50 million meals to people in need this holiday season. A $1 contribution to Feeding America helps member food banks provide at least 10 meals.
So far, the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank already has helped provide more than 2.8 million meals at the program’s midpoint through consumer monetary donations and nonperishable food collected at bank branches and mobile pop-up food banks — nearly five times the amount collected at this point in 2017 during the company’s inaugural Holiday Food Bank.
Additionally, Wells Fargo team members have logged more than 4,700 hours since the start of the program volunteering for 65 different Feeding America-member food banks.
“The support we’ve seen from across the country is inspiring,” said Wells Fargo Chief Marketing Officer Jamie Moldafsky. “Thanks to everyone who has already joined with us to #GiveWhatYouCan, or will before the program ends, to fill food pantries and plates and give the gift of food and relief from hunger this holiday season.”
Seventy-four pounds on the next donation box.
Frank Sheppard, President & CEO, Feeding the Valley Food Bank:
Toughest challenges in a food bank, first is food acquisition.
We have about 83,000 chronically hungry individuals in our community, and we need to continue to reach more of them.
David Shemwell, Administrator, Feeding the Valley Food Bank:
Based on the numbers and the meals that we do, we estimate we’re feeding about 40 to 45 percent of that population.
So there’s always a need for more food, more funds to help us.
We distribute food through three distinct programs here at Feeding the Valley. We have churches and charities come to us and get food. We feed 1,600 kids a day a hot afternoon meal.
And we take boxes of food to individuals who can’t get to a food pantry.
The needs in our community are vast. Even individuals that are receiving assistance are still going to struggle. We have a whole segment of our population we call the working poor.
Individuals that had some significant financial or personal emergency that need help. That’s why the food bank is so badly needed.
Volunteers donated over 24,000 hours to us last year. That’s the equivalent of about another 12 full-time employees. And a quarter-million dollars of labor costs otherwise we couldn’t afford.
Two boxes waiting for you.
Widilia Hernandez, Wells Fargo Consumer Banking:
I grew up with my father. He was a single father, raised two children. We had help from our family, but it was a struggle with food insecurity.
Volunteering at the Feeding the Valley Food Bank makes me feel inspired. It also makes me feel appreciative of the things that I have now.
Rose Jarmon, Wells Fargo Consumer Banking:
What we’re doing right now, it only takes a few seconds, but it’s going to have a deeper impact on a family in need.
To think that your donation is just not going to be significant, that’s not true. Just a little bit can help us to provide the needs for a lot of chronically hungry individuals.
Feeding the Valley Food Bank serves 13 counties in West Georgia and one county in Alabama — covering 5,000 square miles and many different communities. Of the coverage area’s 437,000 residents, 87,400, or 20 percent, are food insecure, meaning they are unsure of where their next meal will come from. And 35,000 of the food insecure are under age 18.
Food insecurity has many causes, from unemployment to underemployment and such major life events as deaths, major illnesses, divorce, fires, floods, and natural disasters. And food that could help feed the hungry often never makes it to those who need it most.
Excluding consumer waste at home, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants end up in landfills. An additional 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded on farms or left in fields and plowed under.
Fighting hunger in West Georgia and Alabama
Nationally, Feeding America estimates 1 of every 8 Americans are food insecure.
The first of three Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank deliveries of food collected at Georgia bank branches to food banks is mid-December; the last delivery in Georgia is Jan. 10.
David Shemwell, Feeding the Valley’s administrator, said the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank assistance comes at a time of peak need and as the nonprofit seeks to continue expanding its services and reach in the face of the stubborn foe of hunger.
Over the last 10 years, Shemwell said that growing support in food, money, and volunteers has allowed Feeding the Valley to increase food distribution from 1.7 million to 9.1 million pounds each year. Big factors in the increase, he said, include the addition of two warehouses providing 54,000 square feet for food storage; new partnerships with corporations and the community; and increased community outreach. The result has been more food, money, and volunteers like Wells Fargo’s Widilia Hernandez.
Calling her childhood in a single-parent home a “struggle with food insecurity,” the Wells Fargo service manager in Columbus, Georgia, feels a personal connection to Feeding the Valley’s mission.
“Volunteering at the Feeding the Valley Food Bank makes me feel inspired,” Hernandez said, “and appreciative of the things that I have now.”
Still, even with Feeding the Valley’s growth, Shemwell said the nonprofit is reaching only about half of the people who need food.
“There’s always a need for more food and funds to help us,” he said. “What makes the Wells Fargo Holiday Food Bank so special for us is that it provides both. We face a mountain of hunger, which takes everyone working together to climb.”