This Man Brings Fresh Produce to Neighbors in Need, Even During the Pandemic

In Birmingham, Alabama, volunteers join together to face the pandemic and ensure that no one goes hungry.

When retiree Eric Calhoun founded his nonprofit, Solutions Inc. in 2008, he set out to aid his community in any way possible. The organization has helped with everything from advocating for ex-prisoners’ voting rights to increasing local students’ access to arts. And in May 2020 they added another service: feeding a community in need during a global pandemic.

Finding a Partner

Eric Calhoun sorting produceCourtesy Cary NortonLast spring, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales approached Eric with the opportunity to partner with Forestwood Farm Inc., one of Alabama’s largest produce distributors. Together, through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, they would deliver 20-pound boxes of fresh produce to local residents.

Finding More Helpers

Eric using a forklift to gather donations onto a truckCourtesy Cary NortonOn the first distribution day, Eric hauled nearly 500 boxes from the truck into recipients’ cars—an endeavor that landed him in the chiropractor’s office. “I just thank God I was able to withstand it that day,” Eric says. “I didn’t want to not take care of what I promised to take care of.” Soon after, he realized he’d need a little help.

Now, he and his wife, A. Faye, who serves as the chairperson for Solutions Inc., team up with faith groups and a nearby high school, which provides volunteers and—maybe just as important—forklifts. Eric coordinates the distribution of boxes at two sites every Tuesday. Each week, they give away as many as 1,680 boxes of produce.

“Doesn’t Take but a Few”

Eric and his wife coordinating donationsCourtesy Cary NortonMaggie Smitherman, a retired teacher, has received at least 10 boxes. And though she’s tempted to save the sweet potatoes—her favorite—for herself, she redistributes much of the produce to family and neighbors. “This lets us know we have people who care,” Maggie says. “It doesn’t take but a few to spread love.”

Those served primarily include older adults, caretakers or the needy, but they do not limit who can receive this service. When a man hesitantly approached A. Faye in hopes of help, he said, “I understand that y’all feed the hungry,” and she corrected: “No, we feed people.” And she loaded up his car with 60 pounds of squash, potatoes, oranges, melons and more for his family. No one owes them an explanation, she says. “COVID-19 has affected everyone in the whole wide world.”

Food banks are doing what they can to fight hunger in the face of the pandemic, but they need help. Want to know what you can do? Visit feedingamerica.org/covid19 to learn more about Feeding America’s pandemic response, and find a food bank near you.

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Hazel Wheaton
Hazel is a writer and editor who has worked in the publishing industry for over 25 years in the fields of travel, jewelry arts and food. As the editor of the Taste of Home Christmas Annual (among other titles), she's in the holiday spirit all year round. An enthusiastic baker, she's known for her cookies, cakes and other baked goods. And she still wishes she could cook like her mother.