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Charity's Front Lines

Four food programs are among the most efficient charities in Alabama — serving on the front line of hard times and Alabama’s harsh #1 ranking for hunger.

Helping hands at work at Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham. Volunteers have served those in need for 70 years.

Helping hands at work at Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham. Volunteers have served those in need for 70 years.

Alabama’s needy are a changing demographic.

They are housewives tossed from homes, children depending on school lunches or seniors living with fixed incomes that aren’t fixed enough. They are the underemployed, under bad times, undernourished and sometimes under loved.

In 2010, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture ranked Alabama number one in America for households unable to provide adequate food for family nutrition. 

But the good news in 2013 — Alabama has some of the best food and shelter providers in the country, according to rankings by Charity Navigator.

Here are four of them.

Clients of Jimmie Hale Mission, including Patrick May, above, enjoy food and conversation at the center while volunteers keep the meals coming.

Jimmie Hale Mission, Birmingham

Based in Birmingham, the Jimmie Hale Mission declares its goal, “To minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the men, women and children in our community by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

But, “We aren’t Bible thumpers,” says Tony Cooper, the program’s executive director. “We won’t beat you over the head with it. We minister through our services.”

For 70 years, downtown Jimmie Hale Mission Inc. has provided a homeless shelter for men, a shelter for women and children, after-school Bible clubs, recovery programs, learning centers and thrift stores. It also operates Jessie’s Place, a haven for women and children seeking shelter, trying to start a new life.

And business is booming.

“A typical stay at Jessie’s Place used to run about six to nine months,” says spokesperson Bonnie Hendrix. “Now it’s more like nine months to a year.”

Director Cooper adds, “It used to be most of the people using our services were transits or hitchhikers, stopping in Birmingham. That isn’t true anymore. Today we mostly serve local people.”

Local or transit, Jimmie Hale Mission dispels myths. “Some look at the people we serve and think, ‘They should get a job,’ and we agree,” says Hendrix. “But many have no resume or ability to write one, have no address, driver’s license, phone number or literacy.” Despite the odds, since 2006, Jimmie Hale Mission has helped more than 900 people enter the job market. Last year, 19 people earned GEDs with the mission’s assistance.

Approximately 80 percent of the program’s funding is from private sources, with the remaining 20 percent from churches, businesses and corporations.

“It’s a one day at a time process here,” says Cooper. “You must provide for the needy today to help them tomorrow.

The old saying goes, ‘Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. We use the fish for both.” jimmiehalemission.com

Montgomery Area Food Bank

On business correspondence, website and emails, the Montgomery Area Food Bank includes a quote, “You don’t have to be rich in order to give. He who is good will always find something to give.”

This Capital City aid center practices what it preaches. Reaching 35 counties, including the towns of Auburn, Dothan, Selma, Tuscaloosa and more, the MAFB is one of the state’s largest charitable food banks.

“We’ve helped 330,000 people in about half the state,” says Jaime Robards, the organization’s development and marketing coordinator. “As you might expect, there is a great need during the Christmas season, but summer is a huge time for us, too, especially for children. About 50 percent of Alabama youngsters depend on school lunch programs for meals. When schools take summer recess, so do the lunches.”

MAFB helps fill the gap, and they get by with a little help from their friends.

“We support them because of their reputation and experience,” says Robert Burns, senior public relations manager at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. “Our people live here and we see the need. But we also know that need reaches beyond our River Region. It is across the state and beyond.”

This year Hyundai gave $10,000 for Montgomery Food Bank’s warehouse expansion project. That gift was in addition to employee fund raising and food drives, which Hyundai matches with a corporate check. montgomeryareafoodbank.org

Bay Area Food Bank

With a four-star rating from charitynavigator.org, Bay Area Food Bank distributes about 16 million pounds of food to the poor annually.

“You have no idea what this place is like until you see it,” says Daphne’s Judy Scroggins, a donor and board member, referring to the 40,000-square-foot warehouse near Mobile, with branches in Milton, Fla. and Gulfport, Miss. From that central warehouse, food is distributed to 24 counties from southern Mississippi to the Florida panhandle.

Donations are from funding sources such as supermarkets, corporate gifts, businesses and individuals like Judy Scoggins. “I went from donor to board member because BAFB is transparent, financially healthy and accountable,” she says. “Ninety-seven percent of expenses go back to program activities.”

“We are seeing more employed and underemployed,” says Connie Whitaker, the charity’s external relations director. “Because of factors like government shutdowns, the poor economy, recently the BP oil spill and even Hurricane Katrina, some people just can’t make ends meet.”

Fortunately, many who can help many who can’t.

“We are honored to give to Bay Area Food Bank,” says Kimberly McKeand of corporate sponsor Trax Tires Auto Service. “We chose BAFB because of the positive influence it has helping people undergoing hard times. It makes a difference in the lives of suffering families.”

McKeand, marketing director for Trax’s nine Gulf Coast locations, notes that her company donated $17,000 to sponsor BAFB’s Chef Challenge and other programs. “We budget for it,” she adds, “because everybody should help others.”

Bay Area Food Bank services includes nutrition programs for low-income families, food distribution and services during disaster relief, as well as collaboration with FEMA and the Feeding America program. The Mobile center promotes community gardens and the school backpack program, stuffing the school lunch sacks of hungry children in need. bayareafoodbank.org

Downtown Rescue Mission

Huntsville — home of missile defense, rocket technology and 850 Thanksgiving frozen turkey dinners donated by the Downtown Rescue Mission.

To many, high-tech Huntsville is seldom associated with poverty. But in the city that helped put man on the moon, hunger is a Rocket City reality.

“Huntsville has a very real and large homeless population,” says Lisa Young, director of major gifts and community relations for the Downtown Rescue Mission. “It’s not just destitute people living under a bridge with outstretched hands. We’ve seen unemployed engineers visit. Many people are one paycheck away from homeless.” 

For more than 30 years, serving northern Alabama and southern Tennessee, the Downtown Rescue Mission has assisted with hot meals, warm clothes and a place to sleep.

In 2012, the mission’s beds’ offered 67,000 nights of sheltered sleep.

The mission serves three meals a day, seven days a week — 247,432 meals last year alone, to more than 200 people. And if 2013’s Christmas is like 2012’s, 300 children will receive holiday toys from Huntsville’s helping hand.

Funding for the Downtown Rescue Mission is mainly from individual donations. “We do not receive any federal or state grants,” Young notes. “Donations are from the community, area businesses and corporations.”

The mission also operates six thrift shops in Huntsville, Albertville, Athens, Decatur, Madison, and Meridianville.

“We support the mission because they are more than a shelter,” says corporate donor Sandra Cepeda, president and CEO of Cepeda Systems & Software Analysis, in Huntsville. “They offer encouragement, programs and a way out.”

CSSA has been a major donor since 2003, providing both financing and hands-on help, including a Women’s Bible Study. “We’ve been blessed by God and want to share the blessings with others.” downtownrescuemission.org

Emmett Burnett is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Satsuma.

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