The fall holiday season is one of the busiest times for non-profit food distribution centers across America including the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. From September onward, thousands of donations come in from giving citizens and distributed to the less fortunate.
This year is a little different for the Food Bank. Due to the floods in August, most of the office workers are operating out of trailers in front of the actual Food Bank location. While the warehouse facility is up and running, the Food Bank lost many of its donations due to four feet of water damage.
But in their most active time of the year, the employees of the Food Bank don’t have time to worry about rebuilding their office. Their focus lies on their mission — feeding the hungry in Baton Rouge.
“Despite the flooding, we have to prepare as best we can,” President and CEO of the Food Bank Michael Manning said. “The holidays are a nonstop time for us with food drives and people donating to us.”
The Food Bank got its start in 1984 at Victoria Baptist Church. The recession of the early ‘80s let to a group of people donating food from the trunks of their cars. In 1985, the Food Bank became an incorporation and has operated in four different locations during its 30 years.
Now, more than 115 member agency pantries receive donations from the Food Bank that they then distribute to residents in eleven parishes. Last year approximately 8.7 million meals were given out through either mobile distribution or neighborhood distribution. During a mobile distribution, volunteers will place donations in the trunks of residents driving through to pick them up.
The Food Bank takes donations of food, money and volunteer’s time.
Communications coordinator Rachel Koch said the support the Food Bank has received since the flooding has been a “blessing.” As more volunteers and donations have come from across the country, the Food Bank has been able to continuously serve the community.
“We received some support from Feeding America who helped us with donations and gathering testimonials,” she said. “It’s one thing to talk about feeding people, but it’s another when you’re out there … it’s really amazing.”
The Sunday after the flood, Manning said he immediately began making calls and sending emails to replace what the Food Bank had lost. Equipment, such as forklifts and computers, had to be replaced. Volunteers, rental trucks and equipment came in to help the process and within four days, Manning said they were able to move 75 percent of the food that they usually do.
“This was the first time to our knowledge that a Feeding America food bank was trying to respond to a disaster and was actually impacted directly by the disaster,” Manning said. “We were in uncharted territory.”
Getting back into their office space is on the Food Bank’s list of to-dos, but Manning said that’s not as big of a concern as distributing as much food as they can to their agency pantries. The food is given to agencies based on the size of the clientele. Since many were displaced by the flooding, some agencies have more people in need than usual while others have significantly less.
“All we care about is feeding people,” Manning said. “That is our first priority. Everything else is ancillary.”
The volunteers log and package the food donated to the Food Bank. Some donate their food and their time because they have been in the position of needing food. One volunteer said there should be no shame in receiving food from the Food Bank because everyone goes through a time of struggle and transition. Manning said without these volunteers, the holiday rush would be impossible to deal with.
“I can’t afford to hire the 12-13 additional full-time employees to do the stuff the volunteers do for us,” Manning said. “I can not pay them enough for their time and effort.”
Although they’re a little behind schedule, the workers at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank are preparing for the time when they’re needed most. While many of the employees are still dealing with their own issues regarding the floods, they all have their eyes on the mission—feeding the hungry of Baton Rouge.
Donations of food or money can be made online as well as signing up to be a volunteer at www.brfoodbank.org.
Photo by Kristine Stone.