Feeding the hungry
Communities inspired by couple’s desire to feed the hungry
By Carolyn Tomlin
Jim and Linda Jones have always worked to make a difference, both in the U.S. and abroad. But their effort now is concentrated on their northeast Alabama community.
Serving on 23 short-term mission trips around the world — in the U.S., Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Kenya and Brazil — opened their eyes to hunger. But it was after a mission trip to Africa that Jim saw hunger within one mile of his home — in his own neighborhood.
After much prayer and research, Jim and Linda decided to focus on the needs of Alabama’s children, making sure that families receive the food they need.
The members of Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative began Alabama Childhood Food Solutions (ACFS) in 2011, feeding 42 children from the trunk of their car. Now, they feed almost 3,000 children, giving them a backpack of food 49 weeks a year.
And numerous churches and organizations in central Alabama counties participate. Corporations across America support this 501c3 non-profit that has grown into a $350,000-plus per year organization.
Marble City Baptist in Sylacauga is just one of the churches committed to supporting ACFS. The church provides a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, volunteers and monetary support. “People more than ever want to see where their mission efforts are working and be able to be the hands and feet of God in our own neighborhood,” says Steven Smith, youth pastor.
The churches that support ACFS are active participants in the procurement and distribution of food. Governed by a board of nine people from the area, ACFS is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff. All funds are used to purchase, transport and store food for the hungry. Donations may come in time, work, or money.
Initially, Jim and Linda were challenged to identify the families and children who are “food insecure,” which is defined by the USDA as having a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or a limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. Chronic food insecurity can lead to hunger.
“Food insecurity is more than an empty stomach,” Linda says. “It’s not knowing if or when there will be another meal.”
Jim and Linda started by reaching out to educators and school support staff, who saw these food insecure families every day. Adding more weekend bags each week, they are now sharing food with 38 schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.
With each weekly backpack, a small note is included. Each note reflects a life situation and how kids should react. “Character building comes in many forms,” says Jim.
The organization encourages families to get involved in schools and become active in the community. Even one person can make a difference, Jim says. “But imagine the difference a caring community can make in the lives of Alabama’s hungry children. Yes, it takes a village.”
As a member of the ACFS board, Shirley Mitchell recalls a day when Jim talked to a group about volunteering. “I’ll take whatever you can give,” he told them. “One day a month — or one hour.”
Mitchell has seen the long hours both Jim and Linda donate to ACFS. “When they started, they often put in 80 hours per week. Today, volunteers carry some of the load, but they continue to work 40-plus hours weekly. They never ask volunteers to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.”
Senior citizens and the homeless are also part of this food distribution. Each month ACFS feeds nearly 1,500 people in 400 families who are food insecure. Using a market-style distribution, parents can choose fresh and nutritious food their families will eat, which reduces food waste.
“Why give families something they will never eat?” Linda says. “Instead, have a center and encourage them to shop for nutritious items that will be used for meals.”
The couple has identified 14,000 food insecure children in three counties and will work to feed as many as possible. “We would like to see this program replicated across Alabama — even across America,” Jim says.
Learning to find funds
Part of the success of ACFS has come from grants and donations. For anyone who wants to start a feeding program in their community, Jim Jones offers some suggestions:
- Use online grant sources to identify foundations and corporations in Alabama that supply grant monies. Learn how to make a proposal to such groups and how to form a grant-writing committee from volunteers.
- Look around your community and identify local businesses that are part of a national chain or franchise. These businesses have foundations. Work with the CEO or manager to locate funding for hunger projects. Are there grants that provide for children, low-income families, or education that can be connected to food insecurity? Find creative ways to recognize these businesses through contact with social media, mail-outs, and appreciation dinners.
- When Jim and Linda receive funding for a project, they continue to communicate with this organization for other needs. Recently, a $35,000 van was donated to ACFS to deliver weekend backpacks to schoolchildren. A recent project was “Sock-it-to-Hunger” where 11,040 large socks were distributed to schools and churches across the state. Groups and individuals participated by filling the socks with $5.