Faith-based ministry partners with churches to help food-insecure families

Before Jim and Linda Jones founded Alabama Childhood Food Solutions, their commitment to feeding hungry children began thousands of miles from home.

As professional nurses, the couple dedicated their vacation time each year to medical missions. Traveling to five continents on 25 international missions trips, they realized there were hungry children everywhere.

However, they didn’t need to travel across the world to find those who were food insecure — they were right in central Alabama.

In fact, one in four children, or approximately 200,000, in Alabama go to bed hungry each night.

They have no way of buying food and fear they will be taken away from their parents if they ask for help.

Filling a need

“We discovered the percentage of hunger is the same in Alabama as many countries in South America and Africa — 25%,” Jim said. “Food insecure means that children and families do not know where the next meal is coming from or if they will have anything to eat.”

Returning home from an international trip, Jim and Linda prayed and thought they could help fill the need in central Alabama. With Sylacauga as their home base, their first experience was to fill 40 plastic bags with food and distribute them from the trunk of their car. That was in 2012.

Today, ACFS is a faith-based nonprofit sponsored by 38 churches in Central Alabama including Double Oak Community Church, Mount Laurel; Marble City Baptist Church, Sylacauga; and Alpine Baptist Church.

ACFS partners with the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and Feeding America. From a warehouse in Sylacauga, ACFS serves people in seven counties, including Talladega, Coosa, Shelby, Calhoun, Clay, Randolph and Chilton.

Most of the area is rural and people often drive 20 miles or more for groceries.

“It’s God’s food, and my job is to give it to those in need,” Jim said.

“ACFS is the hands, feet and heart of God” and “we share food to the hungriest” in nearby communities, Linda added.

Every dollar raised by ACFS goes to purchase food. All work is volunteer, and no one receives a salary.

A donation of $25 can feed a child for five weekends. The criteria to get food from ACFS is “being hungry” in Central Alabama, the couple said. Their organization can purchase food at $.16 per pound, providing up to six meals for $1.

The couple recalls taking food to a woman’s home, opening the refrigerator to place it inside and finding nothing except ice. A grandmother asked for food for her 4-year-old granddaughter but asked nothing for herself.

COVID-19 has changed the world and the need for food. ACFS has seen a 20% increase in requests during the pandemic, due to loss of employment, illness and school closings. Families who never before had to ask for food are now waiting in long lines just to feed their children.

In March, ACFS fed 2,020 kids each week with a weekend backpack and gave a few hundred families a generous box of food once a month.

Since then, more than 40,000 weekend bags of food have been shared; nearly 800 families now receive food every month.

ACFS shares with kids, single parents, seniors, grandparents raising grandchildren, homeless families and veterans. In a recent week, they shared more than 53,000 pounds of food with people in need.

They use two vans with refrigerated trailers and a “Feeding Little Tummies Bus” to get food to the hungry.

The Joneses share any surplus with other churches. Randy Kissic is in charge of the food ministry at Sycamore Baptist Church in Talladega County. Once a thriving cotton mill town, much of the industry has left, and vacant buildings are everywhere.

“Our church had a soup kitchen until the pandemic hit,” Kissic said.

Relying on donations

“Instead of a soup kitchen, we had to start giving out food items to hungry families. Our church doesn’t provide money, but we rely on donations from members. ACFS has given us excess food or we couldn’t have provided for our people. These donations may come as gallon cans or bulk items.

“This summer, they gave us fresh fruit and vegetables. … Using social media, we announced on Facebook and set up a distribution center at church.”

Vanessa Colley has seven children in her care, all of whom came to her as babies and toddlers.

“ACFS helps me feed ‘my’ children,” Colley said.

People often ask why she has taken on this responsibility, to which she replies, “God brought me to it. He will see me through it.”

Jim Jones often quotes Mother Teresa, who was known to feed the hungry: “If you can’t feed a hundred, then feed just one.”

For more information about ACFS, go to alabamachildhoodfood.com.

Oct. 11 is SBC Global Hunger Sunday, an opportunity for Southern Baptist churches to raise awareness of hunger needs.

However, Alabama Baptists designate the third Sunday in February for the Hunger Offering emphasis, which will fall on Feb. 21, 2021.

For more information, go to tabonline.org/hunger-offering.

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