B.J. Cardwell wanted to tell the Coffee County Commission thank you. The commission ended up thanking him.
Cardwell is the director of the Coffee County Community Church Mobile Food Pantry, whose mission is to feed the needy in Coffee County.
The organization is primarily funded through church donations, but Cardwell said the distribution point — at the Coffee County Complex — is crucial.
Cardwell gave an update on the mobile food pantry during Monday morning’s commission meeting.
“This is a service that started about 15 months ago and it’s helped a lot of families that are less fortunate than we are,” Cardwell said. “Had it not been for this commission right here agreeing to let us use these facilities out here in the open-air complex — rainy days, cold days, hot days — it wouldn’t have ever happened.”
He gave some eye-opening numbers.
“We’ve been able to distribute over 277,000 pounds of food in the last 12 months. We’ve been able to give from 75 to 100 pounds of food to each family that comes each month.”
The organization has commitments from churches for $750 a month, then “goes shopping” from the Wiregrass Food Bank in Dothan at a deeply discounted price.
“They’re really good to us,” Cardwell said of the Wiregrass Food Bank. “They send a lot of food for $750. We’ve served a total of 3,500 people in that 12-month period. We have a lot of applications, a lot of people who want to be a part of it. But funds — all you can do when your funds are limited is you do what you can.
“These people are grateful. Sixty-five percent of them are seniors. We started to let the senior go first but had to change it around because most of them are seniors. We have people come from Ino Senior Center, Zion Chapel, Elba and New Brockton.
“If you really want to see people in need just come out here the last Tuesday of each month and you’ll get a glance of it.”
It is an amazing operation. Cardwell said it takes 48 volunteers to get it done on distribution day. His wife, Kathy, said volunteers range in all ages.
“A lot of the kids love to help,” she said. “They can get their community service hours in this way.”
The last Tuesday of each month people who have registered for the program check in.
“When the food bank truck comes we take a forklift and offload it into a building our here,” B.J. Cardwell said, noting those four dozen volunteers it takes to get it done.
“They can drive through and pick up their food. We can take six cars at a time and they drive down the row on either side of the food. We try to give them from 75 to 100 pounds of food.”
The organization can distribute rain or shine because the area is covered.
“Every penny that’s donated goes to buying food — no shirts, no gas, no anything,” Cardwell said. “Any leftovers we send to the Christian Mission.”
It is absolutely a team sport — and everybody plays a key role. Cardwell said he’s grateful that the commission allows that crucial space as the distribution point. He said the First Baptist Association has been tremendous, as well as the Wiregrass Food Bank.
“Take over half million dollars of food in a year, retail, for $10,750. How much better a deal can you ask?” Cardwell said of the WFB.
Cardwell said the Coffee County Mobile Food Pantry’s biggest need is transportation for the recipients, who come from all over the county.
“We need somebody to drive these buses,” he said. “That’s the only thing that keeps seniors at the senior center from getting food. We need that.”
Dean Smith, the chairman of the Coffee County Commission, thanked Cardwell for his service.
“Spare a minute to see this,” he urged his fellow commissioners. “There are a lot of good volunteers who work. The day I was there it was pouring rain. This does a lot of good for people who need it.”