The West Alabama Food Bank plans to move from its Northport warehouse and relocate to Tuscaloosa.
The nonprofit organization has operated from its current building at 3160 McFarland Blvd. in Northport since 2011. However, staff members say the food bank needs more space and has outgrown its 52,000-square-foot warehouse.
As a solution, the food bank has signed a deal to move into the Buffalo Rock warehouse off Alabama Highway 69 South in Tuscaloosa. The Buffalo Rock warehouse now houses around 120 employees who assist in the distribution of soft drinks and snacks throughout Tuscaloosa County.
The food bank plans to move into the Buffalo Rock warehouse in January.
Staff and board members have met with Tuscaloosa County Commissioners and the City of Tuscaloosa for financial help with the move. The food bank started Imagine West Alabama, a five-year $10 million campaign designed to raise money to move, buy new equipment and start new programs in its new building.
Jean Rykaczewski, the CEO and executive director of the West Alabama Food Bank, said the new building will provide more storage space for fresh produce and frozen foods. Rykaczewski said food bank plans to install a cooler and a freezer at the new location, which could store over 400 pallets of food.
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The food bank's current location only allows them to store one-fourth of that amount, Rykaczewski said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and inflation have caused more people to seek assistance from the food bank, she said. However, the food bank has struggled to keep up with the high demand. Rykaczewski said she often has to turn away truckloads of food because there is simply not enough room for it.
"We're having to turn donated product away, because we don't have a safe place to keep it ...You know, we don't want to have to turn away any food," Rykaczewski said.
The new building will also benefit the food bank by providing better parking, larger space for offices and production, as well as easier access for trucks and volunteers.
Rykaczewski said she hopes to add a volunteer center and more programs once they're moved into the building.
"We'll be able to add additional programs [and] we'll be able to utilize volunteers more effectively. We'll be able to take all products that's offered to us, instead of having to pick and choose ... it really broke my heart (recently) when I had to turn a whole truckload of chicken down," Rykaczewski said.
The West Alabama Food Bank has served the community for 35 years with a mission to to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in the area. The food bank works with nine counties in West Alabama — Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marion, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa — serving a population of more than 315,000 residents.
Rykaczewski said the Imagine West Alabama campaign will help support the food bank's growth and aid in its mission to end hunger and food insecurity West Alabama.
"Imagine where ... people don't have to suffer from food insecurity. Imagine what we can do with the new building," Rykaczewski said.
Reach Jasmine Hollie at JHollie@gannett.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: West Alabama Food Bank moving from Northport to Tuscaloosa