ALBANY — Officials with Feeding the Valley food bank announced late Monday that the organization would take over Calhoun, Dougherty, Lee and Terrell counties, the four southwest Georgia counties released recently by Second Harvest of South Georgia.
Second Harvest announced that it would leave the area citing a rift with community leaders, a reference to allegations made by state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, as one of the causes for leaving, at the end of May.
“As many of you know, some community leaders in the Albany area have claimed that Second Harvest is not adequately serving the community and have demanded that we leave,” a news release by Second Harvest read. “Over the last 90 days, we have made every good-faith effort to address all the issues that were raised to us, but our critics are still calling for another food bank to replace us. This is frustrating and disheartening for our whole team.”
Sims and officials from Second Harvest were in talks with Feeding America, the national agency that both Second Harvest and Feeding the Valley serve under, to find an agency to fill the gap created by Second Harvest leaving.
“Feeding the Valley serves several counties that are in Freddie Powell Sims’ service area already,” said Danah Craft, executive director of the Georgia Food Bank Association. “When Freddie became concerned about the issues that she surfaced in the news reports that (The Albany Herald did), we were connecting her to Feeding America.
“We were aware of the situation, working collaboratively behind the scenes together, trying to find the right resolution for it. We’ve all been working together to try to find the right resolution for this, and I’m very excited that Feeding the Valley is going to be serving those four counties. It’s a really great operation; it’s a great food bank.”
Feeding the Valley has a 31,000-square-foot warehouse in Midland with branch locations in LaGrange and Cuthbert currently. President/CEO Frank Sheppard said the organization will work with Second Harvest to ensure there is not a gap in service for the food insecure in the four additional counties.
“We are committed to working with the community leaders, the food bank agency network, and donors in these four counties to build the hunger relief network the community needs,” Sheppard said. “We will coordinate with Second Harvest of South Georgia to ensure there is no gap in service for the people of these communities. We are all part of the Feeding America network, and we share a common goal to provide nutritious food to vulnerable families in need.”
Feeding the Valley is planning an initial Mobile Food Pantry distribution in the coming weeks. Additional details will be announced soon.
“I commend the Board of Directors and management team at Feeding the Valley for their vision and commitment to feed vulnerable families in these four counties,” Sims said. “We asked them to engage the community in determining how best to serve the area, and they have already started that process. I am committed to my constituents, and I will continue to support Feeding the Valley as we move forward together. I would like to thank the Georgia Food Bank Association, Feeding America, and especially the Feeding America CEO, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, for their partnership and their commitment to our community.”
Feeding the Valley recently celebrated 35 years of service to its member communities. In addition to operating a Kids Café program that delivers after-school and summer meals to children, Feeding the Valley works with more than 275 churches and nonprofit organizations to provide groceries and nutritious meals to thousands of people in their current 14-county service area.
“Our partner agencies provide the outreach and delivery channel to feed insecure families and individuals,” Sheppard said. “These agencies are churches, food pantries, homeless shelters, after-school programs, senior centers, youth programs and others. We are all part of a team trying to feed and empower people who are struggling to put nutritious food on their table and lead healthy lives. We look forward to working with the agency network in Dougherty, Lee, Calhoun and Terrell counties as well.”