Community Builders: Montgomery County Food Bank

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Photos by Gina Turner

The Montgomery County Food Bank was established in 1985 when several concerned citizens realized the need to address the hunger crisis in our community and began distributing food to those in need from the trunk of a car. Now, over 30 years later, the Food Bank is headquartered out of a 60,000 square-foot warehouse and partners with approximately 70 distribution sites across the county. Over 25,000 people in the community are served by the Food Bank each month. MCFB strives hard to fulfill their vision of “a community where everyone has access to sufficient, nutritious food.”

Allison Hulett came on board as President and CEO of the MCFB in July of 2017. Just a couple months later, the MCFB switched into disaster mode as Hurricane Harvey blew ashore and left much of Montgomery County underwater and with no electricity. Allison had to learn the ropes quickly as the Food Bank employees and volunteers worked hours on end to provide for a community in need. It was a challenging time, but the Montgomery County Food Bank came through as a bulwark that people could turn to in a crisis. As director of the Food Bank during that trying time, and in the ensuing years since Allison has come to develop a strong dedication to putting an end to hunger in the community. She also has a keen passion for ensuring the food being distributed is as fresh and nutritious as possible. Allison was eager to talk and answer any questions we had about the Montgomery County Food Bank.

How is the food distributed to the community?

Our role here at the MCFB is to source the food, sort it, and get it to our partners to give out to the community. Our partners consist of community organizations, local churches, shelters, colleges, schools, and many more like the YMCA and the Society of Samaritans.

One of our partners is the Community Assistance Center; we have a great relationship with them. I love that they have case management services, so if a family comes to them with a budget shortfall—and that’s what “food insecurity” is, it’s a budget shortfall, not a meal shortfall— they can talk to a counselor about work programs, gas vouchers, and also walk out with a box of nutritious groceries and fresh produce to ll that budget shortfall. e way the food is distributed at the center is unique in that it is a “client choice pantry.” the families can walk through the pantry and select the specic foods their family will eat. Giving food out this way is not so “transactional.” The families aren’t just handed a box; they get support as well.

Also, with the produce that is sent home, we send recipes with it to better ensure the food will be enjoyed and not go to waste. ere are many more recipes on our website sorted by ingredients so that, if you have acorn squash, for example, you can type in “acorn squash” and get recipes that incorporate that specific ingredient.

We also work through our network to host Mobile Markets. these events take place in food desert areas, as well as on weeknights and weekends. We work through the partner agencies to market the events to ensure we are serving that immediate community. MCFB runs six Mobile Markets each month. Our strategic 2023 goal is to have a total of 20 each month. Local school districts also help to distribute food. School counselors provide weekend bags of food to students.

I keep hearing the word “nutritious” over and over; you are obviously passionate about that.

As a rule, at least 70% of the product we give out is what we call nutritional pounds. It does not include sugary products or even water. And honestly, that’s what the people want. ey aren’t looking for soda or cookies; they want to be able to feed their families lunch and dinner.

Who are the people that use food pantries?

Our senior adults, to me, are hands down the easiest population to want to assist.  These are folks that were schoolteachers, veterans, business owners, stay-at-home-moms that raised their children–and now in the twilight of their life, they are living alone and are in rm. A lot of times, by the end of the month, their fixed income has just run out.  ere’s a statistic out there that over 50% of the seniors that arrive at an emergency room are malnourished.  ere are many seniors who get food from our partner agencies, but for those that are homebound, we reach them by taking our mobile distribution truck around to the various assisted living apartment complexes throughout the county.

Our other demographic is, of course, our families; the working people that just can’t seem to get ahead. It’s expenses like housing and childcare that really push people into a budget shortfall.  They are falling behind each month, and that’s without those surprises that happen, like when a vehicle breaks down or there’s a housing repair. It really has a big impact on the family budget.  at’s where we step in to help with food for meals.

The other kind of client we serve is a family or an individual that has experienced what I call an “acute crisis.”  These are the families that were doing just fine, but hit a crisis like a job loss. If people are between jobs, we want to provide them with groceries so they’re not worried about where their next meal comes from but can spend that energy on a job hunt. Sometimes there’s a health crisis, where maybe a child has a serious diagnosis, and the mom must quit her job to care for her child. So, that family has now lost half their income and has the additional expenses of medical bills. We also have a lot of people that are now taking care of their elderly parents, which really stretches the budget beyond its limit. Like I said, it’s a budget shortfall.  ere are all types of scenarios that can put a family in an acute crisis and make them what we call “food insecure.” Food insecurity is much more prevalent than people think.

One of my passions is to take the shame out of visiting a food pantry because it’s just so much more common than people are aware. Having food to eat is a basic human need and, if we can help fill that need, then they are free to go address the issues they are having.

What is the Produce Rescue Center, and how does it work?

The Produce Rescue Center diverts truckloads of produce from going to the local land ll to the Montgomery County Food Bank instead, where we sort the bad from the good.  the good produce goes to the tables of the needy, and the bad goes to compost. Fresh produce now accounts for almost half of our total distribution. Since its inception in April of 2017, the Produce Rescue Center has kept over eight million pounds of product out of the landfill.

How can someone help the Food Bank?

Whether it is food, money, or time, there are many ways to give to the Montgomery County Food Bank and to our neighbors in need. Volunteer your time and talent—individually or as a group—to help feed neighbors in need. Just go to our website: www.MCFoodBank.org and click on the “How To Help” tab.

One dollar equals five meals we can provide. We can always use more funding to provide more meals.  ere are two annual events that help raise money for the Food Bank. Coming up on September 13th is “Shootout Hunger” at Able’s Gun Club in Huntsville. It’s a fun clay shooting tournament. Look under “Events” on our website for more information or to register a team and come out to compete.  ere’s also our annual “Food for Life Gala” in the spring on March 28th. It’s a great way to support our mission with a fun, meaningful evening. Again, for more information, please visit our website.

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