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Barry APSO, Energizers team up to help Feeding the Gulf Coast

Work isn’t work when it’s a donation of love, time and energy.

That’s how many members of the Plant Barry Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and Mobile Energizers see their volunteerism in helping feed the hungry in their communities. In that vein, the Alabama Power Foundation has boosted the work of Feeding the Gulf Coast for many years, most recently awarding the nonprofit a grant in 2023.

Alabama Power retiree and Mobile Energizer David Griffin wants to help the needy. After he volunteered with the nonprofit as a Barry APSO member, Griffin was hooked. Now, he volunteers twice a week and helps Barry APSO members when they are there.

Same for Melanie Robins: Since 2018, she has been among Barry APSO members who help sort and organize food, prepare meals for kids’ backpacks for the weekend and assemble items for senior food boxes.

In February, Robins and Griffin joined 13 Barry employees in assembling 260 senior food boxes. Canned vegetables, soups, crackers and milk are among the healthy staples included.

Longtime Barry APSO member Robins, chapter president in 2017, said that each person has a station in line.

The food “covers one end of the spectrum to the other,” said Robins, analyst at Washington County Cogeneration Plant. “You’ve got everything – deserts, baking, waters, sodas, even Kool-Aid drinks for the kids.”

“Everybody loves doing this project,” said Robins, project chair for six years. “I always get exceptional participation for Feeding the Gulf Coast. It depends on what we are doing for them as to how many people I ask for. There’s so much interest within the plant from our employees that would love to do this. … People think it’s worthwhile.”

With Robins and Griffin, Barry APSO volunteers Danny Bolerjack, Stephanie Bolerjack, Catie Boss, Webb Bryant, Aaron Coggin, Adam Davis, Brandon Dunagan, Don Elmore, Dewayne Hammond, Amanda Lofton, Kevin Lynch, Robin Lynch, Rhonda Matthews, Albert Miller, Jeremy Nelson, Sharon Meier, Patrick Pledger, Stacy Simmons, Patrick Smith, Teresa Snow, Daryl Stewart, Gavin Tolbert, Greg Wells, Angela Weston and Tabitha Wright helped in 2023.

Volunteers add big value

Food prices jumped about 26% in the last five years, noted Feeding the Gulf Coast Volunteer and Food Drive Coordinator Haley O’Bannon.

In turn, the nonprofit has seen more food insecurity among Gulf Coast residents. During the past year, the group has supplied about 1,200 senior citizen boxes weekly to Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle residents. Feeding the Gulf Coast gave 17,075 backpack bags to schoolchildren in 24 counties across southern Alabama, southern Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. The backpack consists of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks for the weekend.

“We are trying to hit as many schools as possible,” O’Bannon said. “A lot of kids in this area rely on the free breakfast-free lunch program. We have kids in our service area who have free or reduced meals, depending on the county. Depending on circumstances, some children may not have food when they go home over the weekend, and they are reliant on those meals.”

That’s why Feeding the Gulf Coast is so thankful to Barry APSO and Mobile Energizers, O’Bannon said. Funded entirely by grants and donations, the nonprofit depends on volunteers to pack food boxes and backpacks.

“Last year alone, Barry APSO volunteered 195 service hours with us,” said O’Bannon, who has worked at Feeding the Gulf Coast for two years. “They’ve helped with our food sorting, checking through our donated products to make sure it’s still something good and healthy for us to send out. They work with our senior boxes, packing supplemental groceries for them, and our backpack program with weekend meals for kids.

“Plant Barry APSO has helped us out with all of it. They do anything that we need from them, they always have the best personality,” she said, with a chuckle. “We really look forward to them coming in. We’ve gotten to know a lot of them really well because a lot of the folks from Alabama Power come every quarter. They are really a joy to have.”

“This is definitely a program that we need the community to accomplish, so Alabama Power’s help with that has been tremendous,” O’Bannon said.

Until volunteering, Robins never realized how much the community depends on food donations.

“For me, it touched a heartstring, that with how privileged and blessed we are, there are still people that are going without, and donating just three hours of my time can help,” Robins said. “That’s what I want to do.”

This story originally appeared in Powergrams, the corporate publication of Alabama Power.