In the midst of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Misty Kerr has found joy by helping to feed hungry kids in her community.
“With all the bad news on TV, I had to have something to smile about,” said Kerr, an automotive market specialist at Alabama Power’s Gadsden Office. “When all this is over and I think back on the pandemic, I wanted to be able to think about the good that came out of it. There is nothing more fulfilling than feeding children.”
When schools abruptly closed in March, Kerr became concerned. Knowing that many of the children in her Gadsden community depend on free or reduced-priced lunches at school, she turned to Facebook to see how she could help. That was the start of a fast friendship among Kerr and four Gadsden-area women who share a passion for making sure kids’ bellies are full.
“We decided that action was the only option,” said Kerr. “We started with a food drive at Noccalula Falls and, to our surprise, droves of neighbors came out and donated food and, more surprisingly, they made monetary donations.”
The night of the food drive, Kerr began researching how to form a nonprofit. Later that week, the five friends distributed the 225 bags of food they had collected to students at Emma Sansom and Litchfield Middle schools – two of the Gadsden schools that had not yet restarted their food distribution program.
“In the first week, we held a food drive, started filling out the paperwork and developing the articles of incorporation for our nonprofit, opened a bank account and handed out food,” Kerr said. “Behind every decision concerning the food bank, serving others was our mission.”
The women then reached out to principals at schools across Etowah County and set up the Titan Community Food Pantry Facebook site to raise awareness and offer assistance. As word spread, they learned of more needs both at schools and in the community.
Kerr said one request came from a pastor in east Gadsden. Tymetric “Ty” Dillon, of Living Truth Christian Center, said people were coming to the church to ask for food for their families, but he couldn’t find any businesses or people who could help. When the women offered to bring 150 bags of food, Dillon was amazed.
“I reached out to Misty to see if we could replicate the things they were doing,” Dillon said. “But she was so gracious to say we would love to partner with you and feed the kids in your community. They have really embraced us. It means so much to us. The east Gadsden area can be overlooked because of the demographics. When you have people take a genuine interest, it means a lot to me and to the community.”
Since then, the women have continued to keep the church supplied with food for the community.
Chance Goodwin, principal at C.A. Donehoo Elementary School, was overwhelmed by the women’s generosity. During their food giveaway at the school, they handed out 190 bags of food to students.
“That was huge,” Goodwin said. “A lot of our parents were not working at the time, and the ladies were giving away a lot of food that could be used to feed their families. It really made a difference in their lives.”
Kerr said her friends have involved their children in the mission. Noa Yates; Riley Kerr; Kaelyn, Ethan, Dalton and Kendall Harris; Emma and Tommy Gramling; and Anna Kate and Carson Ashley helped pack bags and distribute food.
“Our kids’ lives had changed as well,” Kerr said. “On distribution days, cars would line up, and we would pass the bags through the window to keep social distancing intact and wear masks to further enhance safety.”
Kerr said the community stepped up in a big way, with individuals and churches making donations.
“Krista Ashley started the Titan Community Food Pantry GoFundMe page, and within three days, $500 had been donated,” Kerr said. “I had one lady call me twice and say, ‘Go look in your mailbox. I’ve left something for you.’ When I looked, she had left a $500 check.”
Using the donations, Kerr and the other women began shopping for grocery deals. They took advantage of coupons and compared prices to get the best bang for their buck.
The food pantry, housed in a garage apartment at Kerr’s home, quickly began filling up with nutritious prepackaged food, such as pudding and fruit cups, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, crackers and cans of soup. On the day of the giveaways, the group dropped by a grocery store to pick up milk, pizza, sausage biscuits and other frozen foods to give children. Since March, they have distributed more than 1,200 bags with three-day meal supplies to schools and others throughout the community.
The women learned that children weren’t the only hungry ones during the pandemic. They delivered more than 300 boxes of food to homebound or immunocompromised people. Among them were an elderly couple with a disabled adult, and a family of seven who have no transportation.
“We go where the needs are,” Kerr said. “We don’t ask questions. If they need food, we give it to them. It just breaks my heart to see anyone go hungry.”
Kerr said the women will keep the pantry open as long as there is a need.
“It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Kerr said. “To you, this might just be a pandemic but, to me, I’ve found a new passion by truly loving my neighbors and community.”