It’s time to call us what we are…

A Note from our CEO Frank Richards

It’s time we stop calling food banks charities. Let’s start calling them what they really are: critical infrastructure. We are in the planning stages of a major project for the food bank. A few weeks ago I was in a meeting about this proposed project, and someone asked why public tax dollars should be given to a non-profit.

This comment was made by a prominent leader in our community, and it really sat wrong with me for two main reasons. First, the average person doesn’t really understand all the roles food banks play in a community. Second, if food banks cease to exist in a community, the majority of the social service infrastructure in that area fails or suffers. We do a good job telling our story, but the community leader’s comment brings up a good point. We have not done a good job of explaining our role as critical infrastructure.

When people hear “food bank”, they normally think I hand out bags of groceries from a closet in the corner of a church. (For the record, that’s a food PANTRY.)The average community member doesn’t know that we are a $35 million corporation, that we are one of the larger logistics operations in the area, and that we have one of the biggest cooler/freezer in South Georgia. They do not understand that hundreds of non-profit and churches in South Georgia rely on us for food and supplies for their program. They do not understand that thousands of South Georgia kids count on us for their evening meal. They don’t know that teachers come to us to equip their classrooms. They don’t realize that rural communities can’t survive without us.

We execute our day-to-day programs with amazing efficiency, and we still step in to provide disaster relief for communities both small and large. We step in when water systems go down for municipalities and healthcare systems. We are the key service provider after hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. We are the go-to agency for just about any issue a community faces where food, water, and supplies are needed.

The reality is that if the infrastructure doesn’t exist in a community to provide a food safety net, unrest can happen quickly in an emergency situation. Just look at how people freaked out during the early days of COVID – about toilet paper of all things! Everyone knows when a disaster or crisis is threatened or happens that you can’t find bread, milk, or water on any store shelf.

The pandemic created a crisis of supply and demand. People had a hard time finding anything for a few weeks, and we are still seeing high prices due to market conditions. COVID showed that feeding kids who can’t get the school meals they so desperately need and distributing mass quantities of food commodities keeps our community moving and functioning. It lowers the stress for folks wondering and worrying how they’ll feed their families.

Food banks are not just non-profits. We are critical infrastructure in the community. We are first responders and essential front-line workers. We make sure that families are fed when schools are closed and store shelves are bare. Our leaders need to be reminded that funding our work helps maintain stability in our community – in times of crisis and on a daily basis.