Column/A little goes a long way at local Food Bank

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 28, 2007

It’s amazing what a group of individuals can do when they work together toward a common goal, isn’t it? A prime example of that was illustrated in a story we published Tuesday about Sharon Bradley’s seventh grade class at Selma Middle CHAT Academy. The teens banded together and collected 1,557 pounds of food for the Selma Area Food Bank, which will be distributed to needy families throughout the Dallas County area.

Focused energy toward a common goal equals quality results, no doubt a lesson that those much older than the teens and pre-teens can learn from.

The Selma Area Food Bank, the entity that benefited from the teen’s efforts, is a success story in of itself. Started in 1993, the Food Bank serves Dallas, Perry, Wilcox and Marengo counties and last year distributed 1,246,104 pounds of food products to 72 qualifying agencies that then distributes to their clients; some 5,000 per month estimates the Food Bank’s director, J.D. Parks.

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The food bank resides in a non-descript building off Medical Center Parkway and the impact the facility has on people is evident as you walk in the front door. A small hall lined with Polaroid pictures that show people with broad smiles standing next to trucks filled with food leads to Parks’ office.

Parks is an Atlanta native who came to Selma from New Jersey. A veteran of the Army he’s been at the helm of the Food Bank less than a year, but it’s obvious he knows his stuff and has a sincere like for the role he plays in helping thousands of people each year.

“It’s a lot of fun when you give food away all day and everybody you deal with is very pleasant,” said Parks as we strolled through the Food Bank’s warehouse passing pallets loaded with everything from Grey Poupon mustard to Crest toothpaste. “But there’s always still the challenge of getting enough food to distribute.”

The Selma Area Food Bank is a satellite facility of the Montgomery Area Food Bank and food is allocated, Parks explained, based on the percentage of people living below the poverty line.

“Because of the population surveys of the four-county area we serve, we get 13 percent of whatever comes in to (the Montgomery Food Bank),” he said.

Interestingly, of the 1.2 million pounds of food distributed last year by the Selma Food Bank, 53 percent of it was distributed to needy people in Selma through agencies such as the Catholic Social Ministries, Christian Alliance, Abundant Life Center and the Bosco Agency, which serves hot meals to needy folks daily. You would think since Selma folks receive the majority of the food products, that the city of Selma would provide some funding. Not so says Parks.

“I keep hoping the City will help us. We provide one heck of a service to people in this area and a little bit of money goes a long way with us,” Parks said, who also noted that Dallas County officials do “generously” fund the Food Bank.

As an example, Parks said, the Food Bank purchases its food for seven cents per pound, no matter the type or brand name.

“I priced that tube of toothpaste at Wal-Mart for $2.89,” Parks said, pointing to a tube of Crest. “I calculated the cost per pound and it cost us about nine cents.”

Parks went on to say that civic organizations and individuals often want to donate canned goods to the Food Bank, which does indeed go a long way, but with what the Food Bank can buy food for, the best bang for the buck comes through cash donations.

“Somebody could buy 10 pounds of green beans for $10, but if they brought us the $10 we could buy 150 pounds of green beans with it,” he said.

While the majority of the food items the Food Bank receives move quickly out of the warehouse to agencies, some of the items take a little longer. As he explained the process to me, the movie Forrest Gump flashed through my mind. During the movie Gump, who is played by Tom Hanks, utters the famous phrase “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” It’s the same way when a food truck from Montgomery comes, Parks said. The door rolls up and out comes pallets and boxes containing food and even some non-food items.

“Take for instance those chocolate chips,” said Parks pointing to pallet after pallet of gourmet Hershey’s chips; enough to bake a batch of cookies big enough to feed the Third Army. “Agencies don’t want ’empty calories,’ they want good calories. Those will probably be here a while.”

Another item that stumped Parks for a while was the industrial sized boxes of Cascade the Food Bank received.

“You and I could use that at home but poor folks don’t have dishwashers,” he said. “But I read on the Internet that you could use it to wash your clothes with, so I tried it once while my wife wasn’t home and it worked, so it’s been moving pretty good now.”

If you have an interest in helping the Selma Area Food Bank you can contact Parks at 872-4111. Monetary contributions can be mailed to P.O. Box 2513, Selma, AL, 36702. The Selma Area Food Bank qualifies as a non-profit agency, so all monetary donations are tax deductible. Also remember that a little bit goes a long way toward helping area children go to bed with full bellies, so no amount is too small.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: .