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Botts tackles hunger with Food Bank of North Alabama

MADISON – Mary Lynn Botts always has followed her commitment to help people in need. Her latest path is Special Programs Coordinator with Food Bank of North Alabama.

Previously, Botts coordinated a statewide program to glean produce with Society of St. Andrew. She enjoyed working with farmers and helping volunteers serve their communities to end hunger. “I’ll miss my time with farmers and will only get to the fields as a volunteer gleaner,” she said.

Currently, Botts’ top priority is the annual “Hunger Summit 2019 — Many Faces of Hunger” on March 14 at First Baptist Church of Huntsville, 600 Governors Drive SW. Hunger Summit is a free event that assembles all community components who encounter the hungry to discuss hunger’s root causes and explore solutions.

Keynote speaker Clancy Harrison works as a Registered Dietitian, along with time as TEDx speaker and food justice advocate. In breakout sessions, guests can learn strategies on several topics while networking.

To register for the summit, visit alabamahungersummit.org. For more information, call Botts at 256-947-2351 or email programs@fbofna.org.

Botts considers all aspects of her job as important. She focuses on two needs for the most vulnerable populations:

* Senior hunger — ‘Mobile pantries’ or food pantries on wheels. The Food Bank delivers shelf-staple food, fresh milk and produce to seniors in residential housing, currently in Decatur, Fort Payne and Florence. A weekly pantry at Sonnie Hereford Elementary School in Huntsville delivers food to parents picking up their children.

“We deliver milk, oranges, grapes, potatoes and various produce,” Botts said. “Recently, a student received one-half gallon of milk and ran back to his car saying, ‘Momma, look I have food!’ The excitement in his voice was like he had just received the latest toy at Christmas.”

* Child hunger — The Summer Food Service program, or Summer Meals, provides children and teens in low-income areas with free meals when school is closed. Local organizations can participate with 37-plus sites, such as churches, YMCA, public parks, schools and daycares that offered meals to approximately 18,000 children last summer.

Food Bank of North Alabama feeds more than 80,000 people annually at risk of hunger. 

“My career journey has been very circuitous, but, looking back, I was being prepared when the Lord would give me the desires of my heart and the opportunity to feed the hungry,” Mary Lynn said. “I’m blessed beyond measure. I love that the Lord gives us more than we ever imagined if we only trust Him.”

“Hunger, homelessness and poverty exist in Madison. We see it in our working poor. Single-parent moms work two fast-food jobs making minimum wage. They have to decide each month … ‘Do I buy medicine? Pay rent? Buy food?’ Our elderly are also at risk.”

Mary Lynn earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama. Her husband Dr. Mike Botts is president and owner of Botts Innovative Research, which develops sensor systems within the intelligence, defense and scientific communities.

Their son Drew works as a fabric designer for Billy Reid and currently lives in Huntsville. Their daughter Rachel and husband Carl Schoenholz live in Madison. He is Director of Student Ministries at Asbury United Methodist Church. Rachel works in graphic design for Taylor Strategies, whose customers include Mercedes Benz and Allstate.

Mary Lynn has witnessed ‘the hungry.’ As a teenager, she picked up a child living in the ‘mill village’ for a Christmas party. The house was basically a shack, cold and barren.

The mother was feeding a younger child with spoonfuls of peanut butter from a large wooden bowl. Botts and her friends collected gifts and a tiny Christmas tree. “I realized then how differently people live and challenges they face.”

More recently, Botts saw a mother pour water into a bowl of cereal for her autistic son; they couldn’t afford milk. While tutoring at a school, Botts met boys who were always hungry. Their moms both worked two jobs, Krystal and Zaxby’s. After paying rent, utilities and car repairs, little money remained for food.  

“Feeding the hungry is part of my belief system,” Botts said. “Also as followers of Christ, we’re commanded to feed the hungry and take care of the less fortunate.”

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