Community Repurposed: Grace Klein

Community Repurposed: Grace Klein

Our world is made up of people searching for sustainment. This word manifests differently in each person’s life, yet there are also areas of intersection between every human. Physical and emotional nourishment are examples of such areas, and these needs must be met for someone to thrive. 

While these are fundamental needs, they are not guaranteed to be met equally. Some people struggle to obtain physical nourishment – perhaps they cannot afford to feed themselves three times every day. Others may feel isolated, lacking connection and sense of belonging in their community. Al- though many of us often get caught up in a perpetual state of desiring more, it is easy to neglect the resources we do have, such as the food in our pantry and our neighbors. 

While these problems aren’t fresh, they grow more severe each day. However, Grace Klein Community in Birmingham has been on a mission since 2009 to fight for the sustainment of their community. Their vision is “sharing resources for the purpose of building relationships to ignite restoration of individuals, families and communities.” 

One of the main issues Grace Klein tackles is food insecurity. The Alabama Department of Public Health states that 17% of adults and 23% of children – one in four – in the state’s population is classified as food insecure. As the state defines it, food insecurity is the “lack of regular access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life.” The health of many citizens of our state is at risk, as nutrition is a vital aspect of overall well-being. While these statistics can appear crippling, in this case there is a unique opportunity for another problem to act as a solution. 

Feeding America discovered that 40% of all food in America is wasted. Food waste occurs at every level of production and consumption, including farms, retailers, consumers. This means that the good food we are letting go to waste could be used to nourish people that lack provision. 

Thankfully, Jenny Waltman connected the dots. “This is a special scenario where one problem can be the solution to another problem. When does that get to happen?” said Waltman, who founded Grace Klein. “That’s what we do through food rescue, we’re rescuing good food that was going to the landfill, that was releasing CO2 emissions and methane into our environment, and now it’s actually going to the place of the food insecure when it’s still good.” 

This realization is what fueled the creation of Grace Klein in 2009, and resulted in the establishment of an official non-profit organization in 2010, under the name of Feed- BHM. 

Back in October of 2009, in their first month of fighting food insecurity, the Waltmans helped to provide food for 58 families. Three years later in 2012, after several years operating as an official non-profit organization, the Waltman family and their community got serious about food rescue. The first three years, they had been sourcing food for families by purchasing prepared boxes. After seeing how much food was in the dumps of Trader Joes, Waltman was astonished. “This is real? In Birmingham? In our dumpsters?” They decided that if they could obtain this much food from a dump, they would go straight to the front door of retailers and ask for it. That is exactly what they did, using rescued food to feed the food insecure ever since. 

Today, FeedBHM encourages members of the community to go out and rescue food from local retailers. Local food donors include Trader Joes, Piggly Wiggly, Publix and Panera Bread, among many more businesses. The Food Rescue US application makes the process simple and accessible. 

FeedBHM advertises that it only takes an hour of a volunteer’s time to make a dent in food insecurity in Birmingham. Each day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. there are rescue opportunities available so that volunteers can fit a time into their schedule. Rescuers will go to their designated location, pick up food and transport it to Grace Klein’s Hub. From there, the food gets weighed – to track how much food is rescued – sorted and given away. 

The Hub is located 25 minutes outside of downtown Birmingham at Morgan United Methodist Church. Upon entering, visitors are immediately greeted by a hug or handshake and many smiling faces eager to know and serve them. Color springs up from all around and scents intermingle as the main space fills to the brim with plants in bloom and pallets full of produce stacked one upon another. A cup of coffee or warm meal waits visitors, along with someone to share it with. Volunteers and staff members move about the building with purpose, yet with a posture of being interruptible. Although each person has their own tasks at hand, they all slow down to pay attention to where the Lord is guiding them. Even as a stranger there for the first time, the community envelopes you into the folds of their care. 

Ben Trulove, a current part time staff member at Grace Klein, experienced this firsthand. After graduating high school in 2020 during the pandemic, Trulove felt lost. He had no sense of belonging or purpose in any area of his life. The only area where he felt any sense of belonging was Liberty Church, where he had been at- tending for a couple of years. 

At the same time he was struggling to find connection, Grace Klein began using the church as a location for their drive-thru. Food gets distributed through seven different drive-thru pickup locations, designed to target different local communities throughout Birmingham. Churches, a human re- source organization and family courthouse are all utilized as pick up locations. Like the rescue model, the drive-thru allows people to receive food on their schedule and in the comfort of their own vehicle. As people go through the pickup line, they are asked for their name and how many people are in their household. Then they are asked if a volunteer can pray with them. While food provides physical sustenance, prayer nourishes the soul. Trulove’s story is a testimony to how these two acts of service can impact a life. 

Trulove did not have a solid relationship with his community, family or the Lord. When the drive-thru started up, he figured volunteering would be the best use of his time. It became his life; he spent every day from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. volunteering alongside community. During this time, he was introduced to a lot of foreign concepts; praying for strangers, worship nights. 

He said “thoughts like ‘this is so weird; I don’t understand what this is’” constantly ran throughout his brain. Yet over time, the community began to grow on him, opening a door for the Lord to step in. “How the Lord used Grace Klein, His ministry through food, it opened me up to wanting to hear the gospel,” Trulove said. 

Trulove currently serves at Grace Klein as office support staff. He has lived with the Waltman family for several years. The impact that Grace Klein has is so much greater than food. They can provide relief for an immediate need like a meal, and that allows them the opportunity to share what they believe truly sustains them, a relationship with the Lord. Trulove’s life is just one of many examples where Grace Klein has been used as a catalyst in the trajectory of someone’s journey with the Lord. As Trulove expressed, “something as small as food … that transformed my life.” 

Trulove was not the only one impacted by Grace Klein at this time. The beginning of COVID-19 was a time of great development for Grace Klein, and that momentum has hardly slowed down. Waltman shared that the “The day before the pandemic we were feeding 10,000 people a month… practically overnight, after COVID we were feeding 10,000 people a week,” Walt- mam said. 

In conjunction with the drive-thru pro- gram, food is set aside for partners to pick up. ‘Partners’ is the term for people working alongside Grace Klein to make an impact in their own communities. They see a need and fill the gap. These people are pastors, grandmothers and everyone in between. Grace Klein does not require partners to follow their drive-thru mod- el. Rather, they encourage the creation of new models of food distribution that work for their unique communities. One rural community uses the food to prepare meals for elderly neighbors. If someone does not come to collect their meal, they know to check up on them. Partners will drive hours to pick up food and transport it back to their communities. From there, the possibilities of how food is shared are endless. 

Today, Grace Klein serves 19,000 people a week. Rescued food leaves the Hub and reaches 41 out of the 67 counties in Alabama. Everyone has the ability to play a part in this mission. “You don’t get to just not deal with it in today’s climate,” Waltman expressed. “We have food insecure families. Why do you not want to deal with it?”