Lingering effects of COVID, inflation spurn need for food assistance in Albany area

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Jun. 5—ALBANY — In the words of Jimmy McMillan, "The rent is too damn high." And so are groceries and gas these days for many.

Like households across the country, the Feeding the Valley Food Bank is seeing higher costs along with longer lines of people seeking food assistance.

The food bank, which operates in Dougherty and 17 other southwest Georgia counties, saw distributions jump by 53% due to COVID-19 and is still at 33% above pre-pandemic levels, Feeding the Valley President and CEO Frank Sheppard said.

Forty percent of those who requested assistance during the pandemic had never sought food aid prior to the COVID outbreak.

"Now we're seeing it spike again because of inflation," Sheppard said. "So many people are still struggling with the pandemic ,and now with this. There are more people coming to the food bank just to make ends meet.

"We're seeing it, especially our distributions that get toward the end of the month; we're seeing longer lines than we used to."

Covering an area of 6,000 square miles in the territory it serves in 18 counties, the food bank also is taking a hit with higher fuel prices.

"It's had a serious financial impact on us," Sheppard said. "Our fuel bill has tripled over the last couple of months. That's the main thing for us. We're sending just as much food as we can. We're distributing more through our partner agencies. With more people in need, we'll send more food out."

Currently, the food bank also is feeling a pinch in contributions of one particular item: canned staples.

"The biggest issue we're having is with canned goods," Sheppard said. "We do have people that are donating to us. That is the highest-demand staple item that is difficult for us to get."

Although its new facility at 3075 Ledo Road is not fully operational, donations can be dropped off at the site.

In addition, monetary donations can be made at or by mail at Feeding the Valley Inc., P.O. Box 8904, Columbus Ga. 31908.

Each dollar donated can provide as many as six meals, according to the food bank's website.

Sheppard said he expects to be fully ready at the new 35,000-square-foot location in Dougherty County, which serves three additional counties, within about 90 days.

"That's a huge increase in capacity," he said. "It's getting there. We're trucking everything over to that site. We still have to do some work on the cold units.

"We just want people to know we'll be here and help in every way we can, and we appreciate the public supporting us."