The West Alabama Food Bank fights hunger with mobile pantries and community partners

By WVUA 23 News reporter Savannah Denton

When COVID-19 emerged, it quickly disrupted food distribution around the world, meaning many people’s access to quality food was restricted. In West Alabama, the rise of COVID prevented the West Alabama Food Bank from delivering about 300 healthy meals a day to residents in need.

But quick thinking made sure that didn’t last long. Instead, the West Alabama Food Bank took its service to the streets with a Mini Mobile Pantry to get groceries to where they were needed most and ensure residents didn’t go hungry.

While the Mini Mobile Pantry is currently out of service, that doesn’t mean the food bank is slacking on its mission.

The organization is focused on delivering larger grants and food to its camp, which it then distributes to its community partners. These partners ensure food gets to anyone who needs help setting up the meals.

West Alabama Food BankWhen many people think of a pantry, they think of canned goods and nonperishable goods. And while these items are definitely on sale, the West Alabama Food Bank makes sure its partners can distribute everything families need as part of a sustainable, healthy diet. That includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat, said Jean Rykaczewski, executive director of the West Alabama Food Bank.

“We try to offer these healthy options, and through the USDA programs, we get a lot of products, we get a lot of healthy foods like brown rice or lentils, chickpeas,” Rykaczewski said. “Some items people might not understand or know how to use, but that’s why we’re so excited about our new building. We’re actually going to have a demonstration kitchen where we can show people how to use the items that they’re actually getting.”

Many residents who receive food bank help live in what is considered a food desert area or in an area with no grocery store within a 25-mile radius.

According to Feeding America, before the pandemic began, the overall rate of food insecurity was at its lowest level since measurements began in the 1990s, but those improvements have been upended by the pandemic. Today, food insecurity affects 1 in 8 people, and many of these people are older adults.

“(The Mini Mobile Pantry) has been especially helpful to our low-income seniors because they’re on a tight budget,” Rykaczewski said. “Their money doesn’t change, they probably won’t run out and take a second job. They just don’t have enough money and they have to choose between buying their medicines, paying their utilities or buying groceries.”

Although many people who have been left unemployed during the pandemic are back in work, many hard-working people need help so their families can eat nutritious meals.

“It’s a great thing to keep[dietary insecure people]as stable as possible, and that’s exactly what our mobile mini-pantry did,” Rykaczewski said. “Unfortunately, we cannot find a driver for the program at the moment. It’s a program that deals directly one-to-one and with COVID and the flu we couldn’t bring it back at this point.

Although the Mini Mobile Pantry program is not currently operational, the goal of the organization is to get it operational again.

The West Alabama Food Bank is always looking for volunteers and donors. Find out more about registering or donating here.

If you need help with groceries or other necessities while in West Alabama, you can call the United Way of West Alabama’s 211 service and be put in touch with helpful services.