Athens food bank operating above board

by Chari Sutherland

There was a bevy of activity at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia last Wednesday- a busy day at the food bank since mid-week is usually the time food pantries restock their shelves, said Tonya Pass, Programs Coordinator.

The parking lot was full of vans and trucks, all from agencies that provide services in the community, such as emergency shelters or food pantries.  Large, hand trucks piled high with boxes of food were being loaded into vans.  Inside the warehouse, other “shoppers” (representatives from the agencies) were picking out food from bins and lower levels of the warehouse shelves. 

The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia is non-profit and serves a 14-county area.  It is located in Athens on Newton Bridge Road.  It is one of nine food banks in Georgia according to the Department of Human Resources website.  In total, the food bank supplies food to 240 partner agencies, all of which are nonprofit.  Sixty-five of those agencies are within the Athens-Clarke County area, including the Salvation Army and the Athens Homeless Shelter.  Documents and interviews indicated the food bank is operating well in the area they serve, with some minor problems.

Some findings were:

  • About 12% of  partner agencies are not completing required reports to the food bank in timely fashion
  • The food bank’s 2008 tax report was not accessible to the public
  • Oversight agencies and the food bank itself weren’t forthcoming with reports, sighting confidentiality or being unaware of compliance reports requested

Depending on the product, the food bank reports the use of the product and how many families served.  The food bank sends required monthly reports to the Department of Human Resources of the State of Georgia, the USDA and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  By doing so, they are able to get more food items. 

Regarding the required monthly reports partner agencies have to give the food bank, George McGrady, Agency Relations Coordinator, said via email that reports are required by these government agencies to show who receives the food (income levels, age of recipients, employed/unemployed, etc).  Also, a temperature log is required to show prevention in loss of food and food safety.  Agencies must also keep a monthly meal calendar to help keep track of how many meals they served and which meals contained USDA products. 

McGrady said about 88% of the partner agencies are reporting on time and about another 5% are doing things properly and according to regulations.  There are a few agencies that are not complying by sending in their reports.  “We are trying to weed (them) out,” McGrady said. “We’re trying to find out if they want to continue to remain active and if so to make sure they get everything in order and keep it that way.”

Pass said the food bank reports to Feeding America, a national agency which oversees food banks, shelters and pantries that disburse food.  Calls to that agency for more information were unsuccessful.  The Feeding America communications representative, Keisha Miller, responded to queries via email that Feeding America could not comment on the operations of Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.   She wrote, “Feeding America’s information in regard to food bank ratings is confidential.”

Feeding America’ website did provide some information on numbers served, counties served and the like.  This information, however, was similar to all the information in the food bank’s 2009 annual report.  The pounds of food and the numbers of persons served are the same as listed in their tax report. 

The 2007 income tax statement was the most recent posted to the food bank’s website.  It lists their direct public support as over $7 million, government contributions (which includes grants) at over $34 thousand and total revenue at a little over $8 million.

The food bank has a regular staff of 18.   The number of Volunteers vary at the food bank.  Cynthia Griffith, Checkout Manager, said, “We could have at least 20 to 30 in a day.” 

Griffith, who has worked at the food bank for six years, said the food bank is able to help feed people who are in need at a better price.  They are able to shop for less money, she said.  As example, she pulled out a purchase order completed that morning.  The agency (unnamed for confidentiality) bought 97 pounds of food at a retail price of $145, but  only paid $14.22.  That was a savings of $131.28. 

In the smaller warehouse, connected to the main building which houses the administration offices, as well, shoppers come in to “shop”.  The food donated is sorted in the salvage room by category and expiration dates.  Then it is moved to the small warehouse in bins and boxes.  Representatives from agencies such as homeless shelters or food pantries come in any day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.   If they have a large order or don’t have time to pick out the food, agencies can order food online.  Online orders are processed in the large warehouse.  Orders must be picked up within 24 hours of the order being placed. 

The food bank also has special food programs offered to the community.  Food 2 Kids benefits school children.  “Counselors work with us, giving us the names of kids in need,” Griffith said.  “Every Thursday, volunteers come pack bags of food—enough for three meals.  The bags are given to the kids on Friday at school.”  In 2009, this program distributed 44,098 pounds of food.

The Brown Bag Program is for senior citizens.  Seniors can come in and sign up for this program.  It allows them one large, brown paper bag of food per week.  Senior participants can come pick the food up, or have it delivered to them by volunteers.  This program reportedly distributed 49,663 pounds of food. 

The food bank’s 2009 annual report states that 2,267,709 pounds of food was distributed (including total meals of 1,757,914) in Clarke County at a value of over three million dollars.  Their community outreach increased by 1.1 million pounds of food over the last year. 

Lisa Gillespie, of New Beginnings Ministry, praised the food bank.  “I don’t know how we would do it without them.”  New Beginnings feeds and shelters 60 women in Martin, Georgia.  “They have our order ready on time and it’s accurate with very little spoilage.”  Gillespie said the only problem she’s seen is the food bank’s ability to provide food in the winter.  “They hardly have anything and this seems to be consistent.”

Pastor Earl Delmarter of Healing Place in Athens, a men’s shelter, also feels the food bank does a good job.  “They authentically want to see hunger removed from our community,” he said.  He said the food bank’s training on how to distribute food is helpful.  The food bank helps Healing Place feed dozens of men throughout the year, Delmarter said. 


One Comment on “Athens food bank operating above board”

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