Leadership Donors Give Their Time at Annual Community Food Bank Project

Victoria White, Individual Giving Officer at United Way of Central Alabama; Charlie Miller, former Tocqueville Chair and Ryan Campbell, Tocqueville donor and Young Philanthropists Society member (left to right) pause for a photo during a recent volunteer event at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama.

There was a thunderstorm recently raging outside the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, slightly southwest of downtown Birmingham. But inside the sprawling warehouse, several dozen people had come that day to help make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

Undeterred by the weather, they were all there in support of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) and its work to help feed the hungry. All leadership donors ‑‑ Tocqueville and Builders donors, as well as members of the Young Philanthropists Society ‑‑ were volunteering by packing food boxes and preparing them for distribution. By the end of the day, the volunteers packed 780 boxes.

The Food Bank, a UWCA partner agency, distributes millions of pounds of food throughout Central Alabama every year. In 2022 alone, the organization gave out more than 20 million pounds of food to people in our community who were experiencing food insecurity.

Leroy Abrahams, a longtime Tocqueville donor and this year’s United Way Campaign Chair, was among the many packing boxes at the event. His son Leroy II is also a leadership donor and took part in the assembly-line process, as well.

Abrahams said that the annual packing event is exactly the kind of thing that makes donors believe in United Way.

“When you see a warehouse like this, you realize just how much food comes in and out on a daily basis, as well as the impact that this has on the people who are hungry, or who would be hungry, were it not for the services being provided,” Abrahams said.

Leroy II, who is a member of both the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society and Young Philanthropists, said that making a connection between the many partners and programs that United Way supports and the countless individuals they impact is what excited him about UWCA.

“You see people who have issues with getting the proper access to food all the time,” he said, “but just knowing that there’s an organization like the Community Food Bank…that in just one volunteer session, you can be a part of feeding hundreds of families…I think that’s really motivating.”

At the event, many donors spoke up about what has kept them motivated to give, both financially and by volunteering, for so long.

Ernest Bates, a Tocqueville donor who has been involved since he started working for Southern Company in the 1980s, said he cherishes events like this one because they remind him of the when he first got started with United Way through his company’s internal campaign.

“Campaign was really different because it was very face-to-face. Today, you get on a computer and sign up. It was a little more personal back then, and you felt more involvement with the community. That’s probably why I volunteer today,” Bates said. “Clearly United Way is still getting a lot of volunteers out.”

Monica Steele, a Young Philanthropists Society member, said her relationship with United Way first started in 2006. At the time, Steele’s grandmother, who has since died, needed someone to stay with her at all times.

Steele explained that she and her husband had won a vacation and that, without Collat Jewish Family Services (CJFS), a United Way partner agency, they wouldn’t have been able to go. But CJFS allowed Steele’s grandmother to stay at its facilities for the weekend.

“At that point, I thought, ‘I’ve got to help out. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to be more active on the volunteer side of United Way, not just giving money but volunteering also,’” Steele said.

Nick Gaxiola, another member of the Young Philanthropists Society, is relatively new to the area, having moved here in 2020 when he started work at Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED. Through volunteer events and other activities with the Young Philanthropists Society, Gaxiola said he has rapidly come to feel more in touch with the community.

“I find that the opportunities that come about through getting to know, and network with, other volunteers have been really important,” Gaxiola said. “And they strengthen the bond that we have with one another as members of the community here in Birmingham and Central Alabama.”

For Jonathan Loukotka, a Builders donor who has been involved with United Way for 20 years, “give or take,” said he is motivated to donate and volunteer for a very simple reason.

“I’m not struggling in any shape or form,” said Loukotka, Senior Vice President Hedge Manager at Regions Bank. “If you’re also in that position, you should probably help out, too, because you never know when your situation might change.”

Learn more about Leadership Giving and UWCA’s Donor Networks by clicking here.