Feed the Need volunteers join Back Forty Beer Company Owner Jason Wilson (bottom right) at the event on December 23. From left to right on the top row: Will Mackey, Eric Wright, Lee and Rachael Wilson. From left to right on the center row: Alexis and Kate Wilson. From left to right on the bottom row: Janice Underwood and Jason Wilson.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
700 families received the gift of hope this holiday season. Back Forty Beer Company hosted its annual Feed the Need program on December 23, ensuring that almost 5,000 individuals enjoyed a meal for Christmas.
The program originated in 2013 when then county commissioner Carolyn Parker recognized a major need throughout Etowah County and organized an event in response. Parker partnered with Back Forty Beer Company founder and Gadsden City Councilman Jason Wilson, who catered desserts for the first event. Since its inception, the Feed the Need program has flourished – growing by the hundreds each year. When Wilson was elected councilman and Parker completed her term as commissioner, Wilson carried the torch with him, continuing an incredible service to his community.
Wilson shared his how personal background affected his generous heart, noting that while his parents worked diligently to provide for their children, there were moments when food was sparse in his household. As the years progressed, Wilson’s compassion and understanding for the circumstances of others never grew dim.
Wilson recalled a moment he experienced in Atlanta working downtown. He and the executive vice president of the company Wilson worked for were walking to lunch, when a man approached Wilson asking for a meal. Immediately Wilson agreed, placing an order for the man and giving him the meal without question. When a passerby spouted a derogatory comment about the man, the executive vice president offered Wilson some insight that he treasures to this day.
“Sometimes people just need a sandwich,” he said. “They don’t need to give you an explanation of why they’re in their situation. They don’t have to explain to you what got them there or what they’re going to do with it. Sometimes, people just need a sandwich.”
Strong partnerships with local grocers and dedicated volunteers safeguard the program’s smooth operation. This year, families were given boxes of food that fed seven persons via a contactless drive-thru that coincided with COVID-19 precautions. For three-and-a-half consecutive hours, 50 volunteers assisted each car that passed through the parking lot.
The Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County’s Will Mackey has served at Back Forty’s Feed the Need event for several years, contributing again in 2020. He shared what he learned throughout his time participating in such a powerful cause.
“I just love being a part of the community,” said Mackey. “Any chance to volunteer, I can. I love making someone’s day, especially around Christmas. One thing you see is a big divide in the community between those that need help and need someone to be there for them – there’s a big divide that people don’t realize is there. The more involved you are in the community, the bigger role you can play. You can learn what needs there are and where you can fit in.”
Although Wilson’s involvement in the community has taught him numerous lessons, he shared a reoccurring theme that perpetuates throughout his participation in events like Feed the Need.
“You get to know these people in the community from doing this,” said Wilson. “This doesn’t just happen one day a year for us. I have a whole host of people who come by here regularly throughout the week that need a meal, or sometimes they just need a beer and want to sit down and take a load off. You get to know these people and their situations, and you realize how many of these people started off so far behind from the get-go.
“I believe most people in this world want to work. They want to provide for their family. They want to be successful just like anybody else, and they want to work hard to do it. They have just been dealt a set of cards that prevent them from having the same opportunities that everybody else does. If there’s something I can help in some small way…that’s what I value. It’s made me realize how much a very small gesture can mean to somebody.”
Wilson emphasized the importance of empathy and the amazement he feels at the overwhelming responses of those assisted through the program. While people often try to explain their circumstances, sharing reasons as to why they are receiving food, Wilson assures them that an explanation is never necessary. The genuine surprise, ease and gratitude that settles over faces as individuals realize that others truly care remains one aspect of the event that Wilson values most.
“You can tell it restores their faith in humanity,” said Wilson. “That’s what I love the most – seeing the look on their face when they say, ‘Okay, maybe the world’s not totally burning to the ground. Maybe there are still good people out there that are trying to do good things. Maybe there’s a fighting chance.’”
The Feed the Need program gives families that chance – a chance to provide for their loved ones in the present and a chance to arise motivated and inspired for the future. Wilson hopes that through initiatives like Feed the Need, the community will gleam an understanding of the true significance of helping their neighbors, while those in need will receive an opportunity to grow with inspiration, working towards a better future.
“It starts on your street,” said Wilson. “Then it’s your city, then it’s your county, then it’s your state, then it’s your country. That’s how you change things. If you’re ever at a religious service and they say, ‘Greet the two people to your left and your right,’ if everybody just took that approach to the community – I’m going to take care of the person to my left and my right – we’d be in a lot better place.”