Last Wednesday Roanoke was a small-town home to an experience that is typically reserved for the big city - a traffic jam.
The morning congestion was the result of something that has universal appeal - free food.
A morning rainstorm did not deter hundreds of local folks from driving to the Randolph County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA) office on Highway 431 to pick up boxes of free food as part of the "Farmers to Families" food box program.
The food was available thanks to a partnership of East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, the USDA and RCEDA.
The response was overwhelming.
According to RCEDA director Bryant Whaley, the line for the food boxes began forming at his office around 6:30 a.m., despite the fact that the distribution of the boxes was set to begin at 9 a.m.
The team of volunteers on site began handing out the boxes at 8:45, and by 9:30 they were sending people home empty handed after exhausting their supply.
"We gave out 560 boxes, which is 12,000 pounds of food, in only 45 minutes," Whaley said.
Local law enforcement was needed to help direct traffic, which clogged the highway in front of the office and spilled over into parking lots and side streets in the nearby area.
Each food box contained approximately 22 pounds of food and included pre-cooked chicken, fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
There were no age, residency or income requirements for recipients. It was strictly first come, first serve.
"What I am most proud of is that people in line were asking for extra boxes to take to someone else," Whaley said. "They were taking it to their neighbors, relatives or a co-worker. It was very humbling to see so many people in need. Everyone was so appreciative and kept saying thank you. I love this community, and it is truly amazing to see neighbors helping neighbors."
Volunteers included Boy Scout Troop 4022, members of the Roanoke Rotary, Dorothy Tidwell from the Chamber of Commerce, Roanoke City Mayor Pro-Tem Mack Arthur Bell, Rhonda Walker from the Career Center, Tiffany Moore from the Extension office, the staff from East Alabama Planning and Development Commission and several other individuals.
"They stood in the pouring rain and never complained," Whaley said.
Whaley said the whole event was a learning experience, and he will have the chance to put that experience into practice soon. The next Farmers to Families food box giveaway is scheduled for June 24 and will take place at Handley Middle School to better accommodate the flow of traffic. They will also limit boxes to two per vehicle.
"I want to publicly apologize to anyone who didn't get a box and for the traffic jam we caused on 431," Whaley said. "We will be making adjustments next time on June 24 to help with the process, so please be attentive to future announcements."