Feeding the Valley Food Bank sees increased need in Albany area

Nov. 5—ALBANY — Whether it's canned and dried foods, fresh meat and vegetables, or hot meals for seniors and children, Feeding the Valley is delivering in Dougherty and other southwest Georgia counties.

The Columbus-based food bank has been providing services since 2019 here and in Calhoun, Lee and Terrell counties, converting a 35,000-square-foot warehouse on Ledo Road into storage space.

The organization is also building 5,000 square feet of cold-storage space that is expected to be completed around the end of the year.

"With the huge cold-storage units, we'll be able to provide a lot of healthier foods, lean meats, vegetables," food bank President and CEO Frank Sheppard told a group last week.

Sheppard was the speaker for a Thursday luncheon meeting of the Albany Rotary Club that was held at the food bank. Dougherty Rotary Club and Artesian City Sertoma Club members also were in attendance.

Feeding the Valley initially operated out of a former grocery store building that was insufficient for the needs of the organization.

"The first year we provided more than 2.5 million pounds of food in the four counties," he said. "The second year it was 3.5 million. This is what we've been looking for — 35,000 square feet.

"We're all trying to eat healthy. We're trying to help others eat healthy and stave off some of those diseases" such as diabetes.

The Ledo Road project cost $5 million, and so far $4 million of that total has been raised. The food bank could use financial help in making up the difference, Sheppard said, pointing to empty shelves in the warehouse.

Volunteers also are needed, and individuals can make donations or sign up at https://feedingthevalley.org/.

Once the cold storage units are completed, individual meals that are prepared in Columbus for distribution in the southern counties can be refrigerated or frozen and shipped on a schedule of every several days instead of daily, cutting down on transportation costs.

The food bank also is in need of donations, as it has joined other food banks in sending food to help Florida residents impacted by Hurricane Ian.

"When things happen like the hurricane in Florida, everybody gives," Sheppard said. "We sent people, we sent trucks. Our trucks have gone to Jacksonville and put food on trucks for Puerto Rico.

"We have continued to feed everybody in all of our food distribution points on a regular basis."

Like all food banks around the country, Feeding the Valley is experiencing some headwinds, including a reduction in shipments that were stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and increased need with the increase in food prices due to inflation.

The bounty that was warehoused when shipments were heavy is almost gone, and in some cases that means purchasing food at $53,000 per truckload plus freight costs, Sheppard said. During the pandemic, the need for food assistance increased by 53% before slowly dropped to 35%, but now that need is increasing again.

"We're experiencing a food shortage," Sheppard said during an interview following his presentation. "We're 40% off pre-pandemic levels. We're talking to people who are depending on the food bank in their budgets to make ends meet."