COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Forty years after its founding, Feeding the Valley Food Bank continues to give back to its community. Today, at its annual training meeting, community members gave back to the nonprofit which has distributed 15 million pounds of food to children across the year.

Columbus City Councilman Jerry “Pops” Barnes attended the annual training to address Feeding the Valley partners about food insecurity in the region, but he had another surprise up his sleeve.

After describing how food insecurity impacted his childhood to the nearly 200 people at the event, Barnes said, “Now I’m able to do what I really love to do, and that is to deliver a proclamation to organizations that do so much in this community.”

As Feeding the Valley’s President and CEO Frank Sheppard and Fund Development and Community Outreach Manager Carleen Frokjer stood by, Barnes gave the big news.

Tuesday, Oct. 24 is now officially Feeding the Valley Food Bank and Partner Agency Day in the state of Georgia, by decree of Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson.

“I just thank you, every last one of you, from the bottom of my heart,” said Barnes, “for doing what you’re doing because it’s extremely important.”

According to Sheppard, Feeding the Valley has over 360 community partners who work with them to distribute food throughout the local community. They hope to make an even bigger impact next year, aiming to distribute 17 million pounds of food within Columbus and the surrounding area.

This year, Feeding the Valley served approximately 2,500 local children each day in the form of prepared meals. These meals are prepared by Feeding the Valley partners.

“Without them, we can’t reach the number of people in need that we do,” said Sheppard.

He added today’s meeting, which included a breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits, pastries and more for participants, was not just about celebrating the year’s success but also learning. The event ran from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and included a food safety presentation, Q&A panel with Sheppard and other Feeding the Valley staff, breakout sessions and an awards ceremony.

Attendees were able to choose between three breakout sessions led by representatives of Feeding the Valley’s partner agencies. These included a session about St. Anne Community Outreach’s Working Hand’s Pantry, an evening food distribution program offered monthly; one about applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and another session geared toward pop up markets for supplying locals with fresh produce.

According to Sheppard, continuing to train, discuss and evolve through these yearly meetings is critical.

Sheppard said, “It’s getting feedback both ways on how we … can make changes that will enable them to get more food out in the community.”

Feeding the Valley currently serves Columbus, LaGrange and Albany.