Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have closed their doors. “Help Wanted” and “Hiring” signs appear at many businesses.
However, according to Jim and Linda Jones, co-founders of Alabama Childhood Food Solutions, the pandemic has brought good things as well.
“The positive changes that have come are that we have more people who need food,” Jim Jones said. “And this is good — we don’t see it as a problem for ACFS. This means we have more opportunities to tell people about Jesus and what He can do for them.”
With the increase, ACFS has outgrown its distribution center. Presently the faith-based food pantry uses an 8,000-square-foot building, but they have stepped out on faith to purchase 12 acres of land in Childersburg to build a 25,000-square-foot distribution center that will double the footprint to care for the hungry.
ACFS just celebrated its 12th anniversary, providing nearly 2,000 children with weekend backpacks of food during the 46 weeks of the school year. In addition, they serve 2,700 adults — but space continues to restrict the ability to meet needs in Central Alabama.
From a warehouse in Sylacauga, ACFS serves people in seven counties, including Talladega, Coosa, Shelby, Calhoun, Clay, Randolph and Chilton, and it has come a long way from when the Jones distributed 40 bags of food from the trunk of their car in 2012.
ACFS is sponsored by 38 churches in Central Alabama with help from individuals, corporations and “big box” stores, and seeks participation from businesses, foundations or other groups to assist in caring for the hungry.
Food insecurity is a series of circumstances whereby a person or family may not know when or where their next meal or meals will come from.
One in four children in Alabama — some 400,000 — does not get adequate nutrition. One in five adults also is hungry.
“We hear kids tell the story of drinking water to tell their tummies that they are not hungry at the end of the day,” Jones said.
Hungry children have no means to buy food, and often fear they will be taken away from their parents if they ask for help.
“Linda and I discovered the percentage of hunger is the same in Alabama as many countries in South America and Africa … 25%,” Jones related.
Homeless people make up some 1% of the population in Alabama, with as many as 450 children who often don’t know where to get off the bus after school. They stay with friends, relatives or strangers often in unsafe places. Food becomes the number one search after shelter. Other things include emotional stress due to lack of clothing and sanitation facilities.
Children often search through the community and ask for food or invite themselves for a meal with friends. They also can be emboldened by hunger to participate in activities such as drug dealing or selling their bodies. During the school year children sometimes ask their teachers for food.
Before the Jones founded ACFS, their preoccupation with feeding hungry children began thousands of miles from Central Alabama.
As professional nurses, the couple dedicated their vacation time each year to medical missions. Traveling to five continents on 25 international mission trips, they realized there were hungry children everywhere. But they didn’t need to travel across the world to find those who were food insecure … they were right in Central Alabama.
Returning home from an international mission trip, Jim and Linda prayed and thought they could help fill a need. With Sylacauga their home base, their first experience was to fill 40 plastic bags with food and distribute them from the trunk of their car.
Most of the area is rural and people drive 20 to 25 miles to a grocery store. Many areas are “food deserts,” meaning a full-service grocery store is 25 miles away. Most hungry families often get groceries for a day or two at a time from convenience-type stores at high prices.
Retired from the nursing profession, Jim dreamed of buying a bass boat, fishing and spending time traveling to different parts of the world.
“I put the boat in the water one time,” Jim laughed. “Then I heard God speak to me and say, ‘I will provide if you will distribute.’”
Linda added, “We need people to be the hands, feet and heart of God in our communities.”
“Food is a tool to reach people and tell them about Christ,” Jim said. “Since we started in 2012, no one has been turned away. They just have to show up and we give them food. We tell kids this food is from God … not me or the people who donate the food … but from God.”
For more information or to help, contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-207-8048.