Originally created 08/18/00

Community gifts stock food bank



Mike Firmin started a charity in 1982 that has turned into a multifaceted business.

As founder and executive director of the nonprofit Golden Harvest Food Bank, Mr. Firmin faces the challenges of a typical company executive. His business of giving food to the hungry is dependent on the help and generosity of others.

"We look like a wholesale grocery operation, but when we get low on an item we can't reorder from the supplier," Mr. Firmin said. "We pray."

Fortunately for Mr. Firmin, the local business community keeps the south Richmond County organization well stocked year round. In fact, local manufacturers, grocers and general merchandisers donated 2.5 million pounds of food products - about 41 percent of Golden Harvest donations.

The bulk of that poundage came from top five corporate donors: Procter & Gamble, which donates laundry detergent made at its Augusta plant; Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Inc. of Augusta, which donates soft drinks; Food Lion, whose area stores donate a wide variety of items; Southern Beverage Packers, an Appling-based company that donates bottled water and other beverages; and CVS pharmacy, whose North Augusta distribution center supplies various personal care products.

In addition, Southern Beverage donated its Old Savannah Road bottling plant to the food bank after building a new facility in Columbia County in 1998.

Area food and food service companies such as Murray Biscuit Co., Castleberry/Snow's Brands Inc. and Tenneco Packaging are also regulars at Golden Harvest's main distribution facility on Commerce Drive.

"It's really a blessing," said Craig Garner, the food banks product logistics manager.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was responsible for about 7.8 percent of Golden Harvest's stockpile, and individual donation's accounted for 3.5 percent, much of which is collected in May during the organization's letter carriers' food drive.

So far this year, the organization has distributed an average of 550,000 pounds of food per month.

Golden Harvest's five programs feed everyone from senior citizens on fixed incomes to underprivileged school children. Golden Harvest's Master's Table Soup Kitchen provides daily meals for the homeless in downtown Augusta, and its Kids Cafe cooks meals for "latchkey kids."

Last year, the food bank doled out 5.8 million pounds of food to 24 area counties in Georgia and South Carolina, a record 21 percent increase above 1998.

Charles Scavullo Jr., the food bank's 1999 chairman, attributes part of the organization's continued success to its business-savvy board of directors.

"We're a pro-active board rather than a reactive one," he said. "We're setting the stage and planning for the future instead of fighting fires."

Mr. Firmin said future plans at the Augusta warehouse call for the addition of new coolers and a 14,000-square-foot expansion.

Golden Harvest also plans to open two new facilities within the next year: a distribution center in Thomson and an inner-city food sorting facility, which will be built on 6 acres of donated land.

The $2 million needed to operate the organization requires funding from various sources, including individual donations, grants from other nonprofit agencies and state and federal funds. The monetary donations help as much as food donations, Mr. Firmin said.

"For every $1 that is donated, we can distribute $8 worth of food," Mr. Firmin said.

However, the food bank always has needed more than just money to operate. Mr. Firmin said the key to success has been the volunteers.

The organization averages more than 4,000 volunteer hours each month.

Last year, Golden Harvest launched www.goldenharvest.org., offering online applications to those interested in volunteering or donating.

"There is no way we could complete our mission of fighting hunger without our volunteer support," he said. "It involves all sectors of our community to meet the objective that no one goes hungry."

Reach Jennifer Bishop at (706) 823-3217.