How these two local organizations are tackling hunger in the Chattahoochee Valley

Of all the individuals Katie Byers has met with during her time with St. Anne Community Outreach, one person sticks out.

Byers, the center’s director, was speaking with a female interviewee about groceries. St. Anne Community Outreach interviews individuals before providing assistance, to gauge the level of assistance a given person needs. Everything was going as normal, until the woman broke down into tears.

“She said, ‘you don’t know how much this means to me. Last night, I had to put my daughter to bed hungry,’” Byers said.

Byers said the interviewee had one package of macaroni and cheese in her pantry, but could not give it to the child because they’d have nothing to eat the next day.

The story Byers described is not an isolated example.

One in four children in Georgia, or 23%, live in food-insecure households. The food insecurity rate in Muscogee County was 19.7% (23.4% among children) in 2017, according to Feeding America. In neighboring Lee County and Russell County, Alabama, the rates are similar.

Organizations like St. Anne Community Outreach provide assistance to families in a variety of ways.

Rather than serving meals, the center provides a week’s worth of groceries to individuals in need.

Interviews are held in a sectioned-off room just inside the outreach center’s front door. Because the center is involved in a number of government programs, individuals are asked to provide basic information such as name, address, income and number of people in the household.

“If you’re hungry and you show up on our doorstep, we’re going to provide you food,” Byers said. “We don’t turn anyone away. If you show up, we’re going to make sure you have something to eat when you leave.”

Byers said the outreach center, which has operated for 38 years, provided more than 6,000 families (12,000-plus people) with groceries last year. It provided more than 240,000 total meals last year, according to its 2018 annual report.

The cost of providing groceries for thousands of individuals might seem high at first. That’s where Feeding the Valley enters the frame.

Feeding the Valley is a food bank, which distributes the food to organizations that then give out the food, such as St. Anne Community Outreach.

In addition to partnering with many nonprofits around the area, including Valley Rescue Mission, Boys and Girls Clubs and others, the food bank provided more than 360,000 after-school meals in Muscogee County and Russell County, Alabama, last fiscal year. It also distributed more than 53,000 “buddy packs”: meals sent home with kids over the weekend, which are given out from a designated classroom at local schools to protect the privacy of the students.

The food bank distributed almost nine million pounds of food last year to people in its 14-county area.

Byers said the center pays 19 cents per pound of food at Feeding the Valley. For example: a can of corn would cost 19 cents at Feeding the Valley, whereas it would cost around $1 at a grocery store.

This saves the center thousands of dollars, and allows it to serve more individuals around the area. The center spent just over $280,000 on grocery distribution last fiscal year, according to its 2018 annual report.

“We’re able to feed somebody, for under $5, for a week of groceries,” Byers said. “That’s because of our partnership with Feeding the Valley.”

The two organizations have partnered in the past, notably in January to provide food for local federal employees affected by the government shutdown.

“We have some very impoverished counties,” Feeding the Valley president and CEO Frank Sheppard said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, because there are a lot of people who are going hungry on a regular basis.”

People who would like to donate non-perishable food, hygiene items, or cleaning supplies can drop them off at St. Anne Community Outreach Monday through Thursday between 8:30 a.m. and noon.

St. Anne Community Outreach is a ministry of St. Anne Catholic Church and was established to provide food and clothing to people in great need or in an emergency situation. Depending on the availability of funds, the center may also provide financial assistance for utilities, rent and prescription costs.

Its secondary mission is to provide the following items when donated and if space is available: infant care items, linens and blankets, fans, elderly-care items, toiletries, small household items and school supplies.

Learn more about St. Anne Community Outreach by calling (706) 568-1592 or e-mail them at outreach@sasphs.net. Find them online at www.stannecsg.com/outreach or www.facebook.com/stanneoutreach.

Learn more about Feeding the Valley by calling (706) 561-4755 or contact business manager and volunteer coordinator Shelby Williams at swilliams@feedingthevalley.org.

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.