A need to feed
John Becker is helping put food on thousands of tables
The stop sign at the exit of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s headquarters reads, “Hunger Stops Here.” Some might brush that off as a far-fetched goal or a clever marketing idea. John Becker believes it.
Becker (AB ’89) began volunteering at the Athens-based food bank in the ’90s around Thanksgiving.
“I first got involved because a friend of mine in the Athens Rotary Club said, ‘Hey John, why don’t you come on out and help us sling some turkeys?’ And I volunteered,” says Becker.
He later joined the board of directors and applied to run the organization when the executive director left in 2003. Since Becker became president in 2003, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia has nearly quadrupled the amount of food it provides to residents of the region.
Last year over 9.2 million pounds of food were distributed to people in need, compared to 2.5 million pounds when Becker took over the leadership role. He expects to distribute over 10 million pounds of food this year to the 125,000 needy people in the community.
Becker has also helped expand the service area. It now extends to both the North and South Carolina borders and serves 14 Georgia counties. Last summer he established a distribution center near Clayton, since mountainous areas historically had been difficult to reach. Within two months of opening that center, 30 percent of the food bank’s total distribution was going through Clayton.
Key to the organization’s success are the partner agencies that work with the food bank to deliver food to people at locations that are convenient for them, Becker says.
But the agencies provide more than just food. Becker shares a story about an older woman who had food delivered to her house. Once there, the agency volunteers realized that the woman was harvesting rainwater because her well pump had been broken for years. The agency sent another group the next day to fix the pump and get her plumbing back on track.
In addition to agency distribution, the food bank has a mobile pantry system of refrigerated trucks that take fresh food directly into the community. They offer special programs such as Food 2 Kids, which provides weekend meals for children who would otherwise only get food at school through free and reduced-price lunch programs.
Flexible distribution and increased community support have helped Becker get this far, and he hopes that the support will continue to help reach the ultimate goal of 12.5 million pounds of food per year.
“When we get to that stage, we’ll be able to say we’ve ended hunger in Northeast Georgia.”
The food bank also fosters a cycle of community giving. Becker recalls a story about a child in the Food 2 Kids program who brought an apple to his teacher. She was reluctant to take the apple, knowing it came from the food bank and the child needed it more than she. But the student insisted, saying, “I’ve never had an apple to give to my teacher.”
“These children…are getting this bag from people they don’t even know. And they want to give back,” Becker says. “It’s building this culture of giving.”
—Meg Twomey is a former editorial assistant for Georgia Magazine.
To learn more about the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia go to http://www.foodbanknega.org.