Featured food bank: Feeding the Valley

In Columbus, Georgia, demand for food assistance was high even before the pandemic

Members of the Georgia Army National Guard pack produce at a drive-up food distribution in Hamilton, Georgia, in April 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for food assistance dramatically. (Photo courtesy Feeding the Valley)

Even in good times, Feeding the Valley is an awfully busy food bank.

Every month, it serves a million pounds of fruits, vegetables, proteins and other staples across a 6,000 square-mile stretch on the Georgia-Alabama border. Its area includes Columbus – a city of 200,000 people and a poverty rate of 21 percent  as well as scores of rural towns where groceries are scarce or people can’t afford them.

But things got even busier in April 2020. The first full month of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States saw Feeding the Valley’s distribution jump 50 percent  as nearly 1.6 million Georgians filed initial unemployment claims and a run on supermarkets strained the food supply chain.

“All of our sites where we distribute food are overrun,” Feeding the Valley President and CEO Frank Sheppard said. “It’s to the point where we have to have crowd control  police officers there to direct traffic. Literally, the cars will start lining up at 6 a.m.”

Feeding the Valley is among many food banks across the United States facing multiple problems at once: Demand for food assistance is up and grocery stores are selling the inventory they typically donate, forcing the nonprofits to pay for more of their supply. To help shoulder that cost, Raytheon Technologies is donating 50 million meals’ worth of food to Feeding the Valley and other members of the Feeding America network as part of a broader response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A history of service

Feeding the Valley and the Raytheon Technologies business Pratt & Whitney go way back. You might even say they’re neighbors. The food bank’s headquarters is about three miles down the road from Pratt & Whitney’s Columbus site, which produces blades and discs and performs maintenance, repair, test and overhaul for aircraft engines. With a workforce of about 2,000, it’s one of the largest employers in town – and a natural partner for a place like Feeding the Valley, in the form of food drives and other volunteer work.

“We have great volunteers,” said Janeen Tucker, the site’s manager of public relations, communications and community outreach, as well as a member of Feeding the Valley’s board of directors. “The kind of volunteers with that passion that you just love to see. The employees give and support our community because they truly care.”

When Laurinda MacKinnon, who oversees environmental health and safety at the site, was looking for a place for her colleagues to volunteer last year, she didn’t have to look far. She and about a dozen others spent an afternoon packaging up goods for distribution  and ended up beating the record for food packed in an afternoon  15,001 pounds, which served more than 11,000 families.

Bragging rights aside, she said, what mattered to the team was that they were doing something that would directly help the communities where they lived.

“We want to see the fruits of our labor in what’s being done, and Feeding the Valley is so interactive, so out in the community,” she said.

Never more so than now. The food bank is adding 10 distributions to its regular monthly schedule of 45, Sheppard said, with much of the focus on rural towns  often with just one grocer whose stock was wiped out in early panic-buying.

“When the first wave hit, some were strategic in their thinking and went to the small towns 40 or 50 miles away and leveled the grocery stores,” he said. “Your mom-and-pop stores can’t compete with the big chains. They’re lower down the totem pole, and they’re having trouble sourcing food.”

The food bank is running “dangerously low” on sought-after items including boxed and dried goods, Sheppard said. A recent order for a truckload — 22 pallets, about 41,000 pounds of food, cost Feeding the Valley $49,000  an expense Sheppard will soon be able to offset with the donation from Raytheon Technologies.

 “It’s expensive in normal times and prices are going up,” he said.


About the Raytheon Technologies Commitment to Feeding America:

Raytheon Technologies’ financial support for Feeding America will be directed to regions including Hartford, Connecticut; Boston; Tucson, Arizona; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Los Angeles and San Diego; Washington, D.C.; Dallas; Denver; Melbourne and West Palm Beach, Florida; Rockford, Illinois; North Berwick, Maine; Columbus, Georgia; Winston-Salem and Charlotte, North Carolina; Aguadilla and Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico.

In addition to the donation of 50 million meals’ worth of food, the company is also matching individual donations from employees, with every dollar donated resulting in at least 10 meals secured by Feeding America on behalf of local member food banks.

Raytheon Technologies is using its manufacturing capacity, and engineering, logistics and finance expertise, to carry out initiatives that serve our communities, deliver on our commitments to our customers and protect our employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.Learn more about our efforts.