VALDOSTA — America’s Second Harvest has more mouths to feed, but a merger should allow the regional food bank to feed a larger area more effectively.

Albany’s Food Bank of Southwest Georgia has become part of the Valdosta-based America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia, the food banks announced Thursday.

The merger expands America’s Second Harvest from 10 to 30 South Georgia counties. The Food Bank of Southwest Georgia was a supplier for the Colquitt Food Bank in Moultrie. Colquitt Food Bank Director Andy Jordan could not be reached for comment Friday.

With this expansion, America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia now has warehouses in Valdosta, Albany and Thomasville, with Valdosta serving as the regional corporate headquarters for the consolidation.

“Our two agencies working together will be able to operate more efficiently ... to end the problem of hunger in South Georgia,” said Frank Richards, America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia’s long-time chief executive officer.

Richards is leading the restructuring and will manage the consolidated operation upon the restructure’s expected completion date of March 31.

Brett Kirkland had served as the president of the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia. Under the merger, Kirkland serves as the new executive director of the Albany branch of America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia.

Richards, Kirkland and Will Robinson, America’s Second Harvest chief operating officer, discussed the merger during a Valdosta press conference. While it was announced Thursday, the merger occurred on Jan. 1, after the Albany organization approached America’s Second Harvest about consolidating operations.

Last year, America’s Second Harvest served approximately 80,000 people in its 10-county area. During this same period, the Food Bank of Southwest Georgia served approximately 100,000 people in its 20-county region.

The Albany area poverty levels are at 27 percent, marking it as one of the poorest regions in the nation, Kirkland said.

While the merger means more mouths to feed, Richards said it should cost less to feed them. The more the food bank purchases, the less it costs per item.

Think of it as a trip to the grocery store. If you purchase one item at a store, it costs a set price. You may purchase several of these items individually with the price never changing for each item. But if you buy an economy pack containing several of these items, you may spend more, but the amount you spend on each unit is less than purchasing the product individually.

A consolidated food bank, purchasing more food at a time, should get more bang for its buck. For example, Richards can turn a $1 donation into $25 in food.

Which is good. Richards reports the need for food banks is up 34 percent this year in Georgia.

In addition to food purchases, the merger should also establish more cost-effective delivery routes in the region’s predominantly rural areas. For every $1 it costs to transport food in a city, it costs $2 in rural areas, Richards said.

The merged food banks will also be more effective in terms of staff. Staffing redundancies will be cut in the coming months as the merger continues and the dual operations are reviewed.

The new food bank will also review new possibilities for donors in the region, with the aim of increasing contributions.

America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia now covers 30 counties: Sumter, Terrell, Calhoun, Early, Miller, Seminole, Decatur, Baker, Dougherty, Lee, Crisp, Worth, Mitchell, Grady, Thomas, Colquitt, Tift, Turner, Ben Hill, Irwin, Berrien, Cook, Brooks, Lowndes, Lanier, Atkinson, Coffee, Ware, Clinch and Echols.

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