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‘Making a difference’: Food bank collects half a million pounds in Beat Bama Food Drive

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Together the Food Bank of East Alabama in Auburn and the West Alabama Food Bank in Tuscaloosa collected over one million pounds of food during the 29th annual food drive.

This friendly competition between these two food banks began in 1994 and was created by students who wanted to use the Iron Bowl as a way to help fight hunger and food insecurity in Alabama.

This year the drive began on Sept. 30 and concluded one minute before midnight on Thursday. Around 10 a.m. Friday, the results were finally in.

While Auburn didn’t pull out a win over Bama this year, FBEA smashed last year’s record.

During the 2021 Beat Bama Food Drive, Auburn set a new record by collecting 352,389 pounds of food. This year the Auburn food bank collected 550,117 pounds.

The West Alabama Food Bank now holds the new overall record of 565,983 pounds.

Volunteers first revealed a total of 516,611 pounds of food, before FBEA discovered some of the pounds from campus that had been collected earlier weren’t counted. Auburn’s final total was 550,117 pounds.

Regardless, with the combined total, the donated food will be given to those in need in Alabama providing family meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“I am sad that we didn’t win, but at the end of the day it’s not about beating Bama,” said Paige Hall the president of the Beat Bama Food Drive. “It’s about making a difference in the lives of other people and that’s what we did.”

Hall, 21, is a senior studying chemical engineering at Auburn University, and she plans to pursue a PhD in genetics. This is her third year participating as a volunteer in the food drive but her first year serving as president.

This year the Auburn student team consisted of seven executive members, 25 staff members and about 350 students serving on the committee.

“It was absolutely outstanding to watch the work of that many students go in and make a difference,” Hall said. “I am just completely awestruck by this team and the work that we put in, and seeing the result of all of it and seeing that number just makes me ecstatic.”

Charlie Gordon, a 24-year-old graduate student at Auburn University and campus advisor for the Beat Bama Food Drive, dedicated this year’s drive to the memory of his grandfather.

His grandfather Sammy Stults passed away at the age of 77 in September two weeks before the kickoff of the food drive. Gordon said Stults was a huge Auburn fan, had a passion for serving others in the community and always supported the food drive initiative.

“He knew that his health was pretty rapidly declining, and he had written in his will that he wanted all donations in lieu of flowers for his arrangement to be given to BBFD,” Gordon said. “So his spirit has really lived in this team and lived in me.”

Gordon said his grandfather had a heart condition where his heart was too big for his body.

“So he had truly the biggest heart, and it’s really cool that his heart gets to live on at this food bank and the donations raised in his name will live on forever because of BBFD,” Gordon said.

In Alabama, one in five people are considered food insecure. The FBEA works to address this issue through its agencies across seven counties.

“If you took every single person that the food bank serves and put them in Jordan-Hare stadium, it would be three-fourths full or close to 60,000 people,” Hall said.

Martha Henk, executive director of the Food Bank of East Alabama, said the timing for this food drive couldn’t be better as it provides food insecure families with meals for the upcoming holidays.

Henk said they’ve received unbelievable support from the community as well as a “fantastic group” of student volunteers. In 1995, Henk’s first year with FBEA, she said they brought in a total 567 pounds of food during the Beat ‘Bama Food Drive.

“It’s grown from that to being literally one of the largest drives in the state and certainly the largest one for us,” she said.

This year has been extra hard for many people and the food bank has also see a decline in donations, Henk said. Many of the racks inside the food bank are currently empty.

“Some of that is still supply chain issues. Some of it is the federal government, the extra support that they were giving during the pandemic has ended,” she said. “The inflation rate and the cost of groceries has also just gone up so high.”

Henk said the cost for meat, eggs and dairy products has gone up about 13% within the last few months.

As quickly as food is coming in, Henk said it’s sorted, organized into cases, put on a list and agencies start to order it right away.

Since Henk started working with the food bank, she said she’s seen firsthand the effects of food insecurity on the community. In 1995, one in eleven people were considered food insecure in Alabama and now that number is one in five.

Throughout the year, FBEA distributes an average of 400,000 pounds of food a month, which includes the boxes of food they give to low income seniors and backpacks of food for kids of 13 local schools.

FBEA partners with over 200 agencies including soup kitchens, food panties, shelters and other feeding programs. The food collected during this drive will be distributed to these agencies.

“We really count on this carrying us on into the next year,” Henk said. “Then hopefully our food supply will increase after that.”

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