Phillips High School: An oasis in a food desert

Volunteers sorting and packing food at a drive-through food bank at PHS.

BEAR CREEK - Many families from Bear Creek and surrounding areas recently received 46 pounds of food each thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB) of Northport and Phillips High School.

PHS was the site of a drive-through food bank on Sept. 8 at which students, faculty and other volunteers filled boxes with food from WAFB—not only canned goods but also fresh fruits and vegetables, whole chickens and pork loins, cheese, cereal and powdered milk, baked goods of all sorts and more—and then loaded those boxes into the cars and trucks of the first 175 families that lined up for the giveaway. Thirty-five cars had to be turned away after the food ran out.

The second such event PHS had hosted, this food distribution was one of eight that Marion County SNAP-Ed Educator Ginger Eatman arranged with the WAFB after she reached out to the organization to bring more food assistance into her county.

“West Alabama Food Bank is extremely thankful for the help of Ms. Ginger Eatman,” said WAFB Agency Coordinator Destiny Montgomery.

Bear Creek and Hackleburg were scheduled for multiple food distributions because, unlike the other towns, they don't already have a permanent food bank.

Additionally, Bear Creek (and Brilliant, too) is what Eatman considers a food desert because it does not have a grocery store.

Given that, Melissa Taylor, who was volunteering at the PHS food bank on Sept. 8, said, “It means a lot to be able to help the community” in this way.

Town Clerk Kay Wigington, another volunteer, said the food bank was a good opportunity for people since prices are so high.

Taylor noted that this food distribution was special because “it’s for everyone.” Unlike other food banks, this one had no eligibility requirement but was open to everyone in the county, Eatman said.

Schools were chosen as the distribution sites because Eatman wanted students to be involved “to bridge the gap between our community and our students.” “If we do it on campus, then it is easier for the students to be able to come,” she said. “We want our students to learn about their communities and our communities to learn about our schools and their students.”

“I am happy that our students have this opportunity to take part in this effort to serve our community," said PHS Principal Al Temple. “(I) thank Ms. Ginger Eatman and the West Alabama Food Bank for all they do to provide this resource. I’d like to also thank the community volunteers that take part (for) their willingness to serve others.”

PHS students are required to do community service, and the time they spent helping with the food bank counted toward that requirement. Students, from eighth graders to seniors, packed the food into boxes with the help of faculty and other volunteers, who included employees of County Line Machine and Fab of Phil Campbell.

“We have VTO,” said County Line employee Tabatha Benefield. “It is Volunteering Time Off, and we get paid to volunteer and help in the community.”

Senior Karlie Lasker, who was helping to pack boxes, said, “I just feel like it’s a privilege to be helping everybody.”

Freshman Mckinzie Nix, also boxing food, said it was important to help with the food bank because not everyone has the money to purchase food like what was available that day. “I feel that it’s really important that we do stuff like this for people,” she said.

Another student volunteer, freshman Kayden McGarity said, “I’m just trying to help and give back to the community that’s done so much for us.”

The PHS football team did a lot of the heavy lifting, literally—carrying loaded boxes out to cars. Coach Adam Lawler said the food bank was good both for the community and for the students volunteering at it. “It's good that these guys (football players) see this and are willing to put in the work because not only do we try to toughen them up and make them good football players, we want them to end up being good men when they leave here, too,” he said. “They see that life's not always easy and so you got to put in the work. And I always say you reap what you sow, so hopefully, they (will) receive a blessing from helping out right here today.”

That might be the case for the adult volunteers, too. As County Line volunteer Katie Vandiver said, “It feels really good to give back and do for others.”

Upcoming food distributions

The next food distribution is tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 22, at Brilliant Fire Department. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, food will be distributed at Hamilton Middle School. Food will be distributed at PHS again on Oct. 27, at Hackleburg Schools on Nov. 3 and at the Guin National Guard Armory on Nov. 8. Food was first distributed in Hackleburg on Sept. 1 and at PHS on Aug. 11.

All distributions take place from 9-11 a.m. To reduce disruptions in traffic flow, no one should line up before 9 a.m. Food will be available for the first 175 people. There is no eligibility requirement. For more information, contact Eatman at the Marion County Extension Office at (205) 921-3551.

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