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Fighting food insecurity

Jerrod Echols and his family enjoyed a fine Christmas meal, and they enjoy the occasional dinner out. At home, there’s plenty on the table. But that wasn’t always Echols’ story.

Growing up, Echols did not always have access to affordable, adequate food. That’s the definition of food insecurity. In Central Georgia, approximately 18% of people are considered food insecure – surpassing the 14% state average, Feeding America states. One in five are children.

Thankfully, in Echols’ early years, his family received assistance. Today, he considers it a privilege to pay it forward through the small organization he founded, the Melanated Community Stimulation Project.

People and organizations are discovering a variety of ways to aid neighbors experiencing hunger. Here is a sampling of initiatives ranging from unique—such as children’s bicycling project that offers emergency groceries—to traditional—such as the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank. Each organization invites all to join in the fight against hunger.

Melanated Community Stimulation Project

Melanated Community Stimulation Project serves in many ways, including hunger relief. They focus on helping individuals. Echols feels it’s important to listen to a person’s particular needs. With no storage facility, Echols said the best way to help is through monetary donations.

“We still bring meals downtown,” he said. “We like to bring something hot like barbecue versus cold sandwiches, and we try to be personable. I know sometimes going to food banks to get help can be embarrassing. I like to make it about hearing people and not just getting them their food.”

Echols’ efforts exemplify how a few volunteers can do good, even without extensive funding.

The Mentor’s Project

The Mentor’s Project doesn’t ignore the hunger they see in their primary mission of empowering Bibb students to reach their potential. The project operates a food pantry open to children throughout the community. Children are referred by teachers, schools, Head Start programs, and others.

“It’s child-based, but it’s for the whole family,” said June O’Neal, who operates 24/7 from her garage. “They get several bags or boxes of food.” O’Neal said those wanting to donate should remember it’s mainly for kids. “We love getting things kids want, like cereal and mac-and-cheese – not just canned green peas, you know?”

Middle Georgia Community Food Bank

Backpack Buddies unpacks a delivery from Middle Georgia Community Food Bank. Photo by MM Staff.

The Middle Georgia Community Food Bank (MGCFB) is the storehouse for those helping individuals experiencing food insecurity. Partner agencies across 24 counties come and get ten times what a dollar could buy in a store. The food bank is the hub where, according to their records, $1 can buy eight meals. That means a $1 donated there provides a lot of help.

Kathy McCollum, president and CEO, said the MGCFB provides food for food pantries, mobile pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs, emergency shelters, senior programs, residential addiction programs, and more.

“On our website, we keep an updated list of all the food pantries in all the counties, all the mobile pantry dates, and all the agencies that are helping,” she said. “If someone calls needing help, that’s exactly where I look. We put a lot of that on our Facebook page.”

Plus, the website tells how to donate finances, time, and energy.

United Way of Central Georgia

Amanda Greechan of United Way said though the organization does not directly help those experiencing food insecurity, it is involved with agencies that are a major resource. A big part of that is 2-1-1. “That’s the number to call to connect with services,” she said. “You can speak with someone and get information about who’s close to you offering help, including where to find food. You can just dial 2-1-1, you can text your zip code to 898-211 and get through to a chatbot sort of thing, or you can go to our website and click the ‘Get Help’ button.”

Also on the website are tips related to fighting hunger. One page lists eight ways to get involved like donating, volunteering, writing lawmakers, and contacting local farmers, stores, restaurants, or other possible suppliers to the food bank.

Backpack Buddies

In 2011, a small fellowship group at Forest Hills Church considered that free breakfasts and lunches were provided at school, but what about weekends? One solution was giving food-filled backpacks to students to take home. Starting small, they supplied food for nine kids at one school.

Backpack Buddies helps area schoolchildren. Photo by Matt Odom.

Now, encompassing volunteers across Macon, they serve 2,200 students in 24 schools in three counties.

Donated finances allow them to purchase bulk food through MGCFB and area businesses. Students get 15 child-friendly items between drinks, protein, fruit, snacks, and breakfast.

“We also accept food and snack donations,” said Brenda Lambert, who leads Backpack Buddies. “We can always use fruit gummies, cheese crackers, peanut butter crackers, breakfast bars, and items like that. We have no paid staff; about 350 volunteers get the job done each week.”

Lambert said since young recipients carry their food home, they shy away from giving large, heavy items like canned goods.

Warner Robins First United Methodist Church Food Pantry

A good example of committed volunteers utilizing the MGCFB is the Warner Robins First United Methodist Church Food Pantry. Pre-COVID figures show the ministry distributed food to 7,895 individuals in 2,695 families annually. The work is made possible by churches, schools, a college, public libraries, and groups at Robins Air Force Base. More than 50 volunteers work each month to aid those experiencing hunger. Now called the Brev Hunt Food Pantry in honor of its former leader of 30-plus years, the pantry is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m.

U Create Macon

When Charise Stephens began U Create Macon, kids said they wanted to ride bikes. Stephens was surprised some had never ridden at all and started a bike team. It’s become the group’s hallmark. One outcome is being able to address healthy eating among kids who face food insecurity.

“We wanted to provide healthy opportunities,” Stephens said. “You can’t ride 30 miles if you’re not eating well at home, so we started a food closet. We don’t have chips or that sort of thing in our space and, at first, that was a hard sell. But now, they want salads, fruits, and vegetables.”

Stephens said kids have lost weight, become healthier, done better in school, and experienced less bullying.

Besides food, items like tennis shoes are available because you can’t ride if you’re hungry or wearing flip-flops. The organization relies on grants and donations – and gifts of bikes. So far, they’ve given 1,200 bikes to children.

Hot Meals

Loaves and Fishes supports people experiencing homelessness. Photo by Jave Bjorkman.

Loaves and Fishes Ministry and The Salvation Army offer hot meals and food pantries for qualifying residents. Residential programs featuring meals are also available through Brookdale Resource Center, Depaul Daybreak USA, and the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia

Macon Outreach at Mulberry United Methodist Church operates a program called Downtown Kitchen, serving 1,500 hot meals weekly. They serve lunch daily on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Weekend Lunch at Christ Church serves Saturday and Sunday lunches starting at 11:30 a.m. at Jones Chapel on Walnut Street Lane. In 2022, they served nearly 8,000 lunches.

With an estimated 85,360 people in Central Georgia facing food insecurity, 27,040 of them children, a staggering challenge is before us. But together, we can make a difference.

Where To Find Them

Whether volunteering your time, making a donation, or spreading awareness, you can help alleviate hunger in our community. Explore the websites and contact information of each organization to get involved.

Melanated Community Stimulation Project

470.236.3526 | mcsprojectinfo@gmail.com

 

The Mentor’s Project

484 Mulberry St. | 478.765-8624

 

Middle Georgia Community Food Bank

4490 Ocmulgee E Blvd. | 478.742.3958

info@mgcfb.org

 

United Way of Central Georgia

277 MLK Jr. Blvd. | 478.745.4732

amorris@unitedwaycg.com

 

Backpack Buddies

Forest Hills Church

1217 Forest Hill Rd. | 478. 477.1161

 

Warner Robins First United Methodist Church Food Pantry

205 N. Davis Dr., Warner Robins | 478.923.3737 

info@fumcwrga.org

 

U Create Macon

2000 Third Ave. | 478.747.7920

ucreatemacon@gmail.com

 

Loaves & Fishes Ministry

651 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd | 478.741.1007

jferro@loavesandfishesministry.org

 

The Salvation Army of Macon

1925 Broadway | 478.746-8572

MaconGA@uss.salvationarmy.org

 

Brookdale Resource Center

3600 Brookdale Ave | 478.745.4732

 

Depaul USA Daybreak Macon

174 Walnut St. | 478.216.9119

daybreak@depaulusa.org

 

The Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia

6601 Zebulon Road| 478.743-5445

info@rescuemissionga.com

 

Macon Outreach at Mulberry

267 1st St | 478.743-8026

 

Weekend Lunch

582 Walnut St. | 478.745.0427

director@weekendlunch.org

 

For further listings and resources, visit mgcfb.org/find-healthy-food.

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