Jodi Brannon, manager of the Statesboro Food Bank, came to Statesboro in the mid-1970s when her father, Air Force Master Sgt. Joe Bill Brannon, was stationed at a small radar base located out by the Statesboro Airport. The family had been stationed in other states, including Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri, and they had also been in Germany for several years.
Brannon went on to graduate from Statesboro High School, and attended Georgia Southern for a time. But her wanderlust kicked in and she soon found herself in Houston, Texas, where she worked as an engraver for more than five years. She thought that living and working in a small town wasn’t her cup of tea.
But she soon came to miss her home in the Boro, and her family and friends, so she made her way back to Bulloch County.
Brannon managed B&J Awards for 20 years, working for three different owners. A poor economy finally finished the business, and when it closed, she began to volunteer at the local food bank to help her dad, while she attended Ogeechee Technical College to study Wildlife Management.
Brannon’s father had retired from the Air Force then the post office, and he had become very involved at the food bank, originally organized by Grace Waters and then given a home in a small house on Proctor Street, which was owned by the city.
“My father was very passionate about helping people in need of food, as he had grown up very poor in Birmingham, Alabama and had experienced hunger first-hand,” she said. Her dad had volunteered to drive his truck and haul trailer loads of food from Second Harvest of the Coastal Empire, now partnered with the Statesboro Food Bank.
Brannon says her dad worked to find ways to raise community support for the food bank, and along with board members Alton Odom, Keith Hickman, Natalie Neville and others, he worked to solicit regular food donations from area grocery stores.
“He also talked to local civic organizations, churches, businesses and individuals to bring awareness to the needs of our less fortunate neighbors. Statesboro, as a whole, was and still is such a generous and caring community and the support began to pour in when Dad highlighted the needs,” she said. “We are still supported by these entities in Statesboro along with our local United Way Agency, which has helped us have a sustainable income during tough times. Without the generous donations of our community, we would be unable to keep our doors open. Second Harvest in Savannah is part of Feeding America and we can purchase food from there for a fraction of retail cost.”
The food bank was later relocated into the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary building, through the graciousness of the Bulloch County School Board, Brannon said. When that building sold, the food bank had to move again.
“We were given a new home for ourselves at the Old Julia P. Bryant School, and a congregate feeding program home for Rebecca’s Cafe who served two hot meals per week before the shutdown,” Brannon said.
An office manager who worked part-time at the food bank had to give up the job, so Brannon came on board as an interim — and she laughs as she says that was 10 years ago. She has since become director of the facility.
Brannon says working at the food bank is like no other job she’s ever had, in that she knows that she’s making a real difference in the lives of people in Bulloch County.
“Often our clients have many financial challenges, but when we can make sure they have food on their table for their family then we are giving them peace of mind and some hope that they can get their feet back under them without worrying about this part of the puzzle,” she said.
Before the pandemic hit, the food bank served people by referral only from organizations like the Department of Family and Children’s Services. If a person has qualified for food stamps, it can sometimes take weeks or even months before the benefits begin.
“Our main goal is to be an emergency food bank and we give out a seven-day supply of food per family member based on the USDA My Plate nutritional requirements for protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, we serve as the stop-gap that keeps the people fed until they can get a sustainable source for their food supply,” she said.
Since the pandemic started, the number of families the food bank serves has more than doubled — from 325 to 360 families per month, to more than 700.
Brannon says the work at the food bank can be very labor intensive, and she is very grateful for the drivers — which are also board members — and her partner, Murphy.
“We pick up donations from area businesses like Walmart, Food World, Aldi, Pizza Hut and the Bimbo bread warehouse just to name a few,” she said. “The loading and unloading along with packing the orders and this year, curbside distribution, has made this a very active job. I believe I wore out one set of hips these first 10 years, and after undergoing double hip replacement (tip of the hat to my surgeon, Dr. Tankersley), I am good for another 20.”
Due to COVID restrictions, the food bank has had to restrict the number of outside volunteers, but there are a few “well-vetted” people who have continued to serve.
“Our longtime pantry manager, and one of the most dedicated and hardworking women I have ever met is Mrs. Dorothy (Miss Dot) Simmons. She is 80 years old...unflappable, supportive and steadfast, and there were times that along with another senior volunteer, Mrs. Mary Phillips, we were singlehandedly keeping the ship afloat,” Brannon said.
The spring and summer of last year were especially difficult for the food pantry, as they were unable to receive donations from the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive, which is the facility’s largest source of donations. The event was canceled last year due to COVID.
But the worst loss for the food pantry hit a lot closer to home for Brannon.
“We lost our president emeritus, my dear father Joe Bill Brannon. He was residing at Willow Pond Assisted Living and as grateful as I am for the facility’s management of the residents, my heart goes out to those who were and still are unable to share day-to-day time with their loved ones,” she said.
Brannon said the loss was compounded by the fact that they couldn’t honor his wishes by memorializing him with a massive food drive because of COVID. Simmons’ daughter also passed away, and she herself contracted the virus, but made a full recovery.
“Even with the personal hardships, our mission has stayed steadfast and giving blessings have enabled us to receive so many in return,” Brannon said.
Brannon says two of her biggest blessings are her two children, now in their 20s, “who make me proud every day as they work toward their futures. I want them to be successful. I want them to be happy. But most of all, I want them to be good people.”
She says that when she gets time off, she loves to spend time outdoors, fishing, riding ATVs and swimming.
Brannon was nominated for Everyday Hero by Marilyn Hale, who says she admires what Brannon has done for Bulloch County, especially during the pandemic.
“She has literally been there, holding up our county in some of the most difficult times for families,” Hale said. “One thing that Bulloch County residents can be sure of is that Jodi is there for them. She never turns anyone away. If someone is hungry, she takes care of them. What a blessing this is to those needing help in our community.”
Brannon says that “Miss Dot” and her dad remain her mentors when it comes to upholding the mission of letting no one go hungry in the community.
“Their faith in the community as a whole has inspired me,” she said. “My father felt like when there was a lack of support and we struggled as a charity that he only needed to make people aware of what we do for families every day, and how we strive to be good stewards of the donations we receive.”
When asked how she feels about being called an Everyday Hero, Brannon says she’s flattered.
“Certainly I can only give what I have been blessed enough to receive and so the honor goes to all involved in supporting the food bank. I really feel as if I am only the hands of the body of concerned citizens, generous organizations and businesses who allow me to be the one to distribute the resources,” she said.
She points to her father’s words, which he spoke often: “Give a blessing to get a blessing.”
“Being a part of the food bank’s mission has enriched my life by making me realize that people helping people are truly the most blessed people in the world,” she said.
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