The Metro Scene

Citizen Of The Year: Philanthropy

Richard Deem, Montgomery Area Food Bank

Last fiscal year, the Montgomery Area Food Bank (MAFB) distributed 25 million pounds of food throughout 35 counties in Alabama.

By Kristi Gates

A Hunger in America 2014 study by Feeding America showed there were nearly 900,000 food insecure people living in the state, meaning they have difficulty meeting basic food needs. More than 385,000 of those were in the 35 counties MAFB serves.

Established in 1986, MAFB originally served only a few counties. Because of staggering statistics like the ones above, it has grown significantly over the years. MAFB’s mission is to connect people, food and resources to satisfy hunger needs, while targeting healthier outcomes and self-sufficiency.

Leading those efforts is CEO Richard Deem. Originally from West Virginia, Deem served in the Army for 13 years before transitioning into ministry. He retired after working as a pastor for nearly 30 years. Deem came out of retirement to serve as the executive director of the Elmore County Food Bank for several years before joining MAFB a little more than 16 months ago.

In order to accomplish its mission, Deem says, “MAFB is part of Feeding America’s national network of food banks. We oversee four Partner Distribution Organizations (PDOs) – smaller food banks in Auburn, Dothan, Selma and Tuscaloosa – that reach out to the needy in their area through a network of partner agencies. Often those partner agencies are churches and nonprofit organizations that have on-site pantries or feeding programs, deliver meals, or run halfway homes or shelters.”

Deem says the MAFB facility is in essence a distribution center. “We have the huge warehouse and freezers. We serve as a centralized hub receiving and distributing large volumes of donated food and grocery products. Our partner agencies access that donated food through our facility or one of our PDOs and then provide assistance where it’s needed most,” he states.

In addition to providing food for partner agencies, MAFB directly reaches people in need through an impressive list of programs. Deem says, “We oversee an Emergency On-Site Food Pantry Program. If someone contacts us and says they’re hungry, we link them with an agency, and that agency can then take care of them with food we’ve provided.”

Another of MAFB’s biggest programs is the Mobile Pantry Program. “We’ll load up tractor trailers and take food directly to areas that are most in need. It’s our main way of reaching especially distant, impoverished, rural locations. An agency will contact us to say they want to schedule a mobile pantry in their area, and we’ll load up 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of food and go,” Deem says.

One of MAFB’s newest programs is FORK: Feeding Our Remarkable Kids. Deem shares, “We have established food pantries in five public schools where food is being distributed to the neediest of the needy.” He recalls when staff was trying to launch the program and visiting schools they wanted to participate. “One of our folks went to talk to an administrator and while she was waiting, she heard a mother bring in her child and tell the administrator, ‘Make sure my child eats today, because he had nothing last night.’ “That kind of made our case for us,” he says.

Deem is also a big proponent of the Senior Supplement Program, which gives elderly citizens a box of 25-35 pounds of nutritious food monthly. “It’s all about helping people, he says.”

In addition, MAFB operates a new Exercise, Nutrition and Diet (END) Program that presents free seminars to clients encouraging them to make healthier food choices and get active. Deem says, “I’m really excited about this program and recently went over to Troy University to talk with some of their folks about developing the program. What we find is a lot of the people we serve can’t really afford healthy food, and that’s why they make bad choices and often eat unhealthy.”

Although it’s obvious MAFB is making a tremendous difference, Deem states, “I wish everyone realized the scope of what we’re doing and how huge of an operation this really is. We have great name recognition, but every time someone goes on a tour and learns more about us, they go away shaking their head saying, “We just had no idea.”

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