Joe Bill Brannon, retired from two successful careers and a local business, says he is most rewarded by the 50 to 60 hours a week he puts in at his current volunteer job.
Brannon’s title, technically speaking, is operations manager of Food Bank Inc., but he wears many hats at the facility housed on East Jones Avenue in the old Sallie Zetterower School building.
Of those hats, he especially enjoys the part that allows him to help a child.
“We give out 9 to 10,000 cans per month, mostly to families,” Brannon says. “We have a lot of hurting people in this area.”
Brannon’s empathy and compassion for those in need shows through in his next remark.
“I know what it means not to eat or have the gas and lights turned off,” he said, chuckling lightheartedly, even though his statement is serious. “They were turned off more than they were turned on.”
Brannon says he was raised by a single mom who worked as a waitress and made $13.50 a week plus tips.
“There was no welfare, no food bank. If you were fortunate, a church might come with a meal at holidays or the Elks Club,” he said. “But the good Lord’s blessed me. My kids slept warm, and they’ve never been hungry. We’ve always had lights and water.”
With those blessings in his life, Brannon, 75, has a heart for giving back to others through the food bank.
Brannon and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Statesboro in 1975 with their children after he served 23 years in the military. Soon after, he got a job with the U.S. Postal Service and worked 20-plus years there. He also owned BJ’s Trophy Shop during that time.
He got involved with the food bank initially because of the National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual food drive.
An active member of the Statesboro Lions Club, Brannon’s association with the civic group also keeps many fellow members volunteering numerous hours at the food bank.
Most people refer to the nonprofit organization as the Statesboro Food Bank, but Brannon prefers to remove “Statesboro” from the name because he wants all to know that the entire county is served.
Food Bank Inc. was chartered in 1987 and originally located on Proctor Street. In March 2011, the food bank was able to move into its current, much larger location.
Rows and rows of metal shelves, stacks and stacks of cans and boxes, freezer after freezer of meats and breads, lines of refrigerators with fruits and drinks absorb the old school’s cafeteria, kitchen area, stage, and a few back rooms and closets.
Those groceries help feed an average of 150 families per month in the Bulloch County area who otherwise might go hungry. Clients receiving food must be below a certain income level and not receive food stamps.
Most of the individuals and families who come in are suffering an emergency-type hardship. Clients show a voucher that they have received from such agencies as the Department of Family and Children’s Services, Concerted Services, Red Cross, Area Christians Together in Service and Pineland Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities.
Clients are usually given seven days of food to meet the needs of their family. The food bank’s bylaws allow a person or family to receive food four times during a 12-month period.
“This is an investment in Bulloch County,” Brannon said of the organization. “It’s been proven that food insecurity and unbalanced meals affect the body and mind.”
The food bank couldn’t operate without donations and volunteers.
Food comes in from such places as Walmart, Bi-Lo, Subway, Longhorn, Olive Garden, Uncle Shug’s Chicken Barn, Pizza Hut, Nash Finch, Gerald Farms, Crider’s Poultry, Georgia Southern University, and community and church members.
A variety of volunteers serve at the organization, including church groups, civic clubs, college students, families and individuals. Brannon welcomes and encourages volunteers, accepting any kind of assistance, but only after volunteers take a tour of the facility — his home away from home, his pride and heart.
“This is my church,” Brannon says when he mentions that he spends Sunday mornings picking up large amounts of food from places like Walmart or Bi-Lo. “I decided a while back that I could either sit in church and listen to the pastor tell me to do something for others, or I could be out there doing it.”