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A little girl sits at a table smiling with a plate of spaghetti and green beans in front of her.
At the Kids Café in Midland, Georgia, children are served hot meals from Feeding the Valley Food Bank.

Battling a ‘mountain of hunger’ with every meal

A Georgia food bank that feeds thousands through its Kids Café and other programs is among those benefiting from Wells Fargo’s Holiday Food Bank.

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.

Feeding the Valley Food Bank in Columbus, Georgia, provides thousands of hot meals to children each year through its Kids Café program. (1:34)

‘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.”

Despite distributing 9 million pounds of food per year, Feeding the Valley Food Bank reaches only about half of the food insecure in west central Georgia. (1:52)

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

Despite Feeding the Valley's exponential growth, the residents' need for food is more than the food bank's supply. About half of the community's chronically hungry are still in need. A picture of a can shows that 1.4 million meals were served in 2008. Another, larger can shows 7.6 million meals were served in 2018.

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.”

How to participate

A brown paper bag with text that says: Donate nonperishable food at a Wells Fargo branch. Next to the paper bag is a man in a Wells Fargo branch; he is holding a phone and the Wells Fargo stagecoach is behind him.
A brown paper bag with text that says: Find a mobile donation site at wellsfargo.com/foodbank. Behind the graphic is a Wells Fargo pop-up food bank.
A brown paper bag with text that says: Donate at a Wells Fargo ATM. Behind the graphic is a woman at Wells Fargo ATM.
A brown paper bag with text that says: Donate online at wellsfargo.com/foodbank. Beside the graphic is a laptop with a screenshot of the Wells Fargo Food Bank website.
Wells Fargo bank branches will collect nonperishable foods in specially marked bins.
Wells Fargo pop-up food banks will be traveling across the country. Visit wellsfargo.com/foodbank to see if one is coming to your area.
Through Dec. 31, Wells Fargo will match up to $1 million in monetary donations to Feeding America from its ATMs or wellsfargo.com/foodbank.
You can also visit wellsfargo.com/foodbank to make a financial contribution to Feeding America.
Contributors: Christopher Frers and Howard Greenberg
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