‘County ambassadors’ help update food availability databases throughout Alabama

By Melissa Parker

March 8, 2021

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama’s School of Social Work is partnering with Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, or HSI, who recently launched the End Child Hunger in Alabama County Food Guide Project, a program that connects Alabama families in crisis with food resources in their communities.

End Child Hunger in Alabama, or ECHA, is a network of key state leaders, representing both public and private sectors, working together to end child hunger in the state of Alabama. The County Food Guide Project is an extension of their mission, providing a centralized source of information to families experiencing food insecurity.

“After the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff observed that while many organizations were addressing food insecurity, there wasn’t a place that made families aware of the food resources available in their local communities,” said Malerie Goodman, a graduate research assistant with HSI.

So with the help of organizations like Share Meals and the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, a grant from AirTable, and the assistance of volunteers and strategic community partnerships, HSI developed the County Food Guide, an interactive map of Alabama counties, where users can click on a county for a list of food resources available in that area.

UA social work students, along with Auburn University students, have been working as interns since the fall to populate the online database, which is housed on the ECHA website, with accurate and up-to-date information on food availability throughout Alabama.

“I believe that the work we are doing is making a huge difference, providing people with information they may not be aware of,” said Talladega, Alabama, native Asia Suttle, a UA student in the Master of Social Work program, who serves as one of the interns, called county ambassadors.

Added intern Kimberly Mitchell, a Mechanicsville, Virginia, native who is also in UA’s Master of Social Work program, “I’m excited to be a part of this initiative because I get to work with resources that will ensure children and their families have the opportunity to be fed.”

The interns, or ambassadors, work remotely to reach out to grocery stores and other food facilities throughout Alabama, then document how the public can access food, who is eligible to receive services and when the resources are available.

“Thousands of website visitors have been able to locate food resources in their county since last June, thanks to the County Food Guide Project,” said Goodman. “HSI plans to continue maintenance of this resource in the foreseeable future and after the COVID-19 public health crisis ends, to ensure that individuals throughout our state can find food when they need it.”

HSI is currently working to expand accessibility to the County Food Guide Project with an automated text messaging and call-in system, allowing individuals without internet service, especially those in rural areas, to access the information.

For more information and to use the interactive resource map, visit the ECHA County Food Guide Project website.