Beat Bama Food Drive

Auburn University students unveil that the Beat Bama Food Drive raised 352,389 pounds of food for the Food Bank of East Alabama

While the winner of the annual Iron Bowl showdown still hangs in the balance, Auburn took home a different title of sorts last week after bringing in a huge haul for the Beat Bama Food Drive. 

Auburn University students have spearheaded the effort to bring in donations to the Food Bank of East Alabama to help in the fight against food insecurity. 

"It's not something that presents itself like poverty or homelessness," said Jack Wray, president of the Beat Bama Food Drive. "You can't really tell if someone's food insecure. You would never know just looking at someone, and I think we need to bring more attention to that."

The Beat Bama Food Drive does just that, as well as foster some healthy competition between the two rivals heading into Iron Bowl week.

"I think it definitely adds fire to it," said Wray, an Atlanta native who has worked with Beat Bama Food Drive for four years and seen the positive impact it can make. "We like to say that this competition is really the first step between Auburn and Alabama. We like to beat them off the field before we can beat them on the field."

A handful of Auburn students leapt in excitement last week when they unveiled that the Beat Bama Food Drive had netted 352,389 pounds of food, a record haul in donations for any drive at the Food Bank of East Alabama. Alabama also set a record for the West Alabama Food Bank after collecting 319,437 pounds of food.

"At the end of the day, it's really all about the food getting in there and helping out those in need," said Wray. "And everyone wins."

The competition between Auburn and Alabama has come a long way since the inaugural food drive in 1995, when Auburn brought in 567 pounds of food and Alabama, 5,012 pounds. To date, the competing food drives have brought in more than 8,300,000 pounds of food to the two food banks.

"It really is very much a friendly competition," said Martha Henk, who has served as the executive director of the Food Bank of East Alabama since 1995. "It's a collaboration between the two communities. There aren't any losers in this at all. 

"The truth is the ones that win by this are the people that are fed by the food that's raised. It isn't an exaggeration to say that as this food drive goes, the results of that are going to make a difference on whether people will have Thanksgiving meals on their table and then on into the holidays and into Christmas. So it really is that concrete."

The food drive is critical in addressing food insecurity in Alabama and locally in Lee County, where an estimated 26,560 people, including 7,010 children, struggle to provide for themselves and their families. Statewide, one in five citizens are considered food insecure.

"We're not talking about a small issue here," said Henk. "It's been an extraordinarily challenging time. We're still in the throes of the effects of the pandemic. That's going to be with us, I'm afraid, for awhile."

Henk noted that the food bank is having to deal with some of the same supply chain and transportation issues that have affected businesses worldwide. 

"We were supposed to get a truckload of canned goods at one point and they didn't have any aluminum for the cans," she said. "And then transportation has been an issue. There's just been challenges like that.

"And then I think the thing that is so amazing to me is when a community comes together to work on a problem, you can move mountains. And if you go into the warehouse, you're going to see the mountains that have been moved."

Henk added that she has worked with a "pretty remarkable group of students" in the food drive. 

"Philanthropy is just caring for your fellow man, and if you can instill that at a young age, it's going to have a lifetime of consequences, and boy, does this world ever need that," she said. 

While the Beat Bama Food Drive may be over, the need for donations to battle food insecurity continues. Those wanting to help can drop off food during business hours at the Food Bank of East Alabama, located at 355 Industry Drive in Auburn. Henk said the food bank, which serves as a collection and distribution hub for more than 200 agencies in east Alabama, will make sure the donated food gets to those who need it most. 

"One of the things I love about our system is that we have a good system of accountability," she said, noting that the agencies are required to keep records on eligibility requirements on how the food was dispersed. "It isn't just 'scatter food out there.' We hope that it  hits its mark." 

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