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Connie Guggenbiller – Uplifting the Community Through Food

Photo by Devin Ford

Connie Guggenbiller has a true servant’s heart. As a nurse and self-proclaimed lifelong mama, caregiving has always been her passion. Growing up, Guggenbiller helped families in need through her church. Seeing the sadness and shame in the eyes of her neighbors stuck with her. She has since spent her time helping the disadvantaged through the Food Pantry at Central Presbyterian Church in Mobile. 

Over the years the Food Pantry experienced small growth; however, once the pandemic hit it grew exponentially – they now serve 800 to 900 families weekly. “I wanted to run it because I want people to know that they did not need to be ashamed to ask for food,” says Guggenbiller. “Everybody has been in a hard spot at one time or another in their life, and every person has probably been shamed by being in that hard spot. I wanted them to know that there was no shame in them coming to us and asking; and at the end of the day, I wanted people to be able to say that we’re kind.”

Adapting to a pandemic

To adapt to the pandemic Guggenbiller and her team had to reassess the way they ran the pantry and create a new system to accommodate the number of families that they help every week. Formerly a shopping experience, the pantry had to change methods to operate safely and handle the increased volume. “We had to go to a drive-through method and ask people to wear their masks to pick up food,” says Guggenbiller. “We have evolved because we weren’t able to get close to people to allow them to sign in like usual – we transitioned to using a program that was made specifically so that people can register, schedule appointments, and sign in so that we have the statistics that we need to report. We also partnered with the Alabama School of Math and Science to use their parking lot for pick-up.”

“We have long thought that food pantries were emergency food only, but that cannot be true. There are too many people living below the poverty level that will never make it to a better level. They are working people but their dollars just do not go far enough” she says. “The public is misinformed in that we think the people that are coming to food pantries or utilizing other resources don’t want to work or that they are lazy, and none of that is true. It’s very important for us to get the word out that people are trying to make due, and we can help them do that by supplementing their food.”

Photo by Devin Ford

Lending a helping hand to our neighbors

“Mobile has large areas of food insecure people and food deserts. There are areas of town where there are not any good grocery stores nearby,” Guggenbiller says. “They don’t have access to fresh foods, fruits, or vegetables and corner stores have very limited selections. So to be able to find the areas where there are people in need of food has been eye-opening.”

Guggenbiller lives her mission to do whatever she can when she hears of somebody in need. “Every day there is something that I have to do for the food pantry. I take phone calls for people that are in need, and many times we wind up not only providing food for them but also listening,” she says. “So say that a grandmother is raising children – she might need blankets for a bed or a heater for her house. If somebody else says ‘I’ve got stuff to donate’ we try to figure out how to connect people to resources. It’s not just food, it’s caring about what people need and listening to them. Weekly, we take calls, put orders in for food, research to find the best resources, put in statistics for our reports, and look for ways to get more donations. Mondays are always packing days and the pantry runs on Tuesdays.”

Photo by Devin Ford

How you can help 

Guggenbiller has contributed much of the success of the pantry to the dedicated volunteers that help her week in and week out. “I get hope from seeing a lot of people have the same love that I have in their hearts,” she says. “We have a lot of volunteers that come from all walks of life. And they don’t come just because they want to kill some time; they see a need.”

Guggenbiller welcomes anyone who wants to volunteer or donate, and there are many ways to do so. “It’s most helpful to have monetary donations because we can stretch those dollars further through Feeding the Gulf Coast, but we welcome food drives too,” she says. “And you can always call to volunteer. We always need help on Monday and Tuesday mornings. If you can’t lift things, we could use people to help clean and do other things. There are a lot of volunteer options.” 

You can call Mrs. Connie directly to set up a food drive, donate or volunteer – 251-605-8987

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