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Food Bank Volunteers Offer Behind-The-Scenes Help

Even though the man was in his 40s, he still struggled with day-to-day life. Changes threw him for a loop, so he avoided them at all costs. His life was one consistency after another. He spent his days at the Arc of Madison County, a center for people with intellectual disabilities, where they knew what he liked and when he liked it.

But, since we can’t live in a perfect schedule every day, his father suggested he go with other people from the Arc of Madison County when they went to volunteer at the Food Bank of North Alabama. He was reluctant at first—this was a big change to his lifestyle—but soon he grew to love the monthly trips to go sort food.

Dennis Yarges, Volunteer Coordinator for the Arc, sets up volunteer opportunities that allow center participants to serve with local nonprofits.

“He was kind of reluctant in going,” Dennis said of the man who volunteered at the Food Bank of North Alabama. “He went, and now he looks forward to it. Even though it’s once a month, he can tell you the exact date.”

When Dennis first heard the Food Bank needed volunteers, he rounded up a group to go once a month—every third Thursday—as a way for Arc participants to get out into the community. Most days, people who go to the Arc spend time at the McKemy Center, a job training site that prepares them for work. But the volunteer hours spent at the Food Bank are a way for them to change up their scenery while still teaching them the skills they need to thrive.

“It also lets you focus on staying on task when you’re volunteering,” Dennis said. “You’re staying focused, so that in itself is a good life skill to have.”

Behind The Scenes Help

Every day, volunteers come into the Food Bank of North Alabama to sort donations based on product and expiration date. These donations are then distributed to 250 partners across the North Alabama area.

Laura Fincher, Community Relations Manager for the Food Bank of North Alabama, said volunteers come in two-and-a-half hour shifts to sort and inspect the food that comes into the warehouse.

While volunteers won’t come in direct contact with people who need food at the Food Bank warehouse, Laura wants them to know their role in feeding the hungry is imperative.

“It’s kind of the behind-the-scenes of helping people,” Laura said. “We feed some of the most vulnerable people, often the needy, the ill, the children, the elderly…because we respect and honor those people. We want to make sure the food is as safe as possible.”

The numbers are staggering. In North Alabama alone, there are more than 80,000 hungry people. The Food Bank hands out more than 8.5 million pounds of food to their partners each year—most of which is sorted by volunteers.

The Food Bank also has volunteers that help with office tasks, SNAP (food stamp outreach) and mobile pantries, but Laura said those jobs are reserved for volunteers who have proven to be reliable during their time working in the warehouse.

Becky Heslip has been volunteering at the Food Bank of North Alabama regularly for two years and has worked her way up to the administrative tasks and mobile outreach. She always knew there were hungry people in Huntsville—her kids came home with a sheet of paper talking about free lunches at the start of every school year—but she didn’t realize how great the need was until she went out with the mobile pantry.

“They were in subsidized housing,” Becky said. “I think they kind of live check-to-check, so they were very grateful to have a food pantry come to them and allow them to stock up on staples…They were very appreciative.

“When I first started working there and seeing the numbers…that was one of the things that surprised me. Even though you know it’s there, in just the general course of my day-to-day, I would not think of that.”

How You Can Help

Volunteers must be 16 years old or older, able to work the full shift and have availability during the day on weekdays.

If you want to come as part of a group, the Food Bank is equipped to host groups of up to six volunteers.

Food Bank of North Alabama staff will provide a quick training session for new volunteers before sending them off to the warehouse to help with donations. You can find out more and set up a time to volunteer on the Food Bank of North Alabama website.

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