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Alabama No. 3 in hunger nationwide; Baptists can help practically, through advocacycomment (0)

June 13, 2013

Alabama No. 3 in hunger nationwide; Baptists can help practically, through advocacy


As the “grocery clerk” for Washington Baptist Association, Mildred Butler said she hasn’t always gotten a lot of thanks.

But that’s changed over the past few years.

“Since the economy has gotten worse, people who come to us say the bag of food we give them makes the difference of whether or not they eat the last week of the month,” said Butler, ministry assistant and food ministry director for the association.

Her office gives out food to nearly 300 families a month. The count has “steadily gone up as the economy’s gotten worse,” Butler said.

And it’s not just Washington County. Statistics say the food insecurity problem found there spans the entire state.

In 2011, 18.2 percent of Alabama households struggled to put food on the table, compared to 14.9 percent of families nationwide, according to Bread for the World statistics. The year before, 26.7 percent of the state’s children were at risk of hunger.

Add all that together, and experts say it means Alabama ranks No. 3 in hunger in the nation, according to Bread for the World.

Out of Alabama’s counties, Wilcox, Winston, Conecuh, Monroe and Marion have the highest rate of food insecurity, which means at least one member of a household has had his or her eating patterns disrupted by lack of money.

Larry Barnes, director of missions for Fayette Baptist Association, said he sees the reality of food insecurity in his area all the time. The association’s food bank is open four and a half days a week to people who have no food.

“Our churches contribute food items and money,” he said. “They feel it is important because jobs are scarce and they know that those whom we are helping are very likely to be completely out of food.” 

Like Fayette Association, other Alabama Baptists statewide are working to meet hunger needs on a practical level, said Kristy Kennedy, an associate in the office of associational missions and church planting of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). Twenty-three Alabama Baptist associations have food banks that received hunger funds from the SBOM, with 14 more food ministries added to that, she said.

“And these are just the ministries that ask us for hunger funds, so there are more groups than this” who do food ministry, Kennedy said.

Washington Association is one ministry that receives money from the World Hunger Fund through the SBOM to help run its food distribution project.

Butler said, “The things that used to help you stretch your dollar now have gotten more expensive — rice, potatoes, the ‘fillers in,’” so people are having a harder time putting food on the table. 

So over time, Washington Association moved from running a “small pantry” giving away 50 bags of food a month to a bigger operation that receives food from the regional center of the Alabama Food Bank Association (AFBA). The AFBA has eight locations in Alabama that provide goods to emergency food programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

“In obedience to our Lord, we should all attempt to help those who have need,” the Washington Association website states. Providing food for the hungry is a big part of that, it said.

For Barbour Baptist Association, many of their calls come from families in crisis by way of DHR.

Calls come “when clients there are applying for food stamps and don’t have any food, but they won’t get their card (for food stamps) for another seven days,” said Donna Harrison, administrative ministry assistant for Barbour Association.

The association’s food bank is on site and stocks “strictly canned foods donated from individuals and churches,” Harrison said. “If we are running low, all our churches step up to the bat.”

Requests for food come often but in spurts, she said. “One week, I’ll have to fill bags for three or four families. Other times, we might go two weeks and not have any.”

It’s a good working partnership between the association and DHR to meet needs, Harrison said.

But Alabama Baptists can go one level greater when it comes to reaching out to government to meet hunger needs, said LaMarco Cable, deputy director of organizing and grassroots capacity building for Bread for the World.

“I believe ending hunger in the United States and around the world requires a partnership between community and government,” he said. “Feeding programs do an excellent job of responding to immediate needs.”

But the government “is able to respond immediately and create long-term solutions to ending hunger with input from church and community leaders,” Cable said.

Advocacy, he said, tops the list of ways to respond to hunger needs.

“Critical decisions are being made in Congress that will impact poor and hungry people in Alabama and around the country,” he said.

Cable said he strongly encouraged Alabamians to contact their senators and urge them not to cut programs for the poor and hungry.

“Also encourage them to work with their colleagues to set a goal and plan for ending hunger in the United States,” he said.

For more information about Bread for the World and advocacy for the hungry, visit www.bread.org. For more information about Alabama Food Bank Association, visit www.alfoodbanks.org.

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