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by JAVACIA HARRIS BOWSER
Since 2009, Jenny Waltman has been on a mission to feed Birmingham. Through the faith-based, non-profit organization, Grace Klein Community, Jenny and her team offer food for the belly and the soul. With the help of partners and volunteers, Grace Klein Community delivers food boxes to families in need. The organization helps provide food at shelters and to other groups supporting those who experience food insecurity.
Through its food rescue program, FeedBHM, Grace Klein Community takes fresh food that restaurants, grocery stores, or catering services would throw away and gives the food to families who need it.
Grace Klein Community feeds more than 44,000 Alabamians each month, which merely scratches the surface of the work Jenny’s organization does. Grace Klein Community has global partnerships, too, such as the group’s work with Kwathu Children’s Home in Livingstone, Zambia. Grace Klein helped teach a group of women in Zambia how to sew purses that they then sold to help support their families and a local school. We are honored to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Jenny Waltman, founder of Grace Klein Community.
What inspired you to start Grace Klein Community?
In [The Book of] James, it says if you know the good you ought to do but don’t do it, then it’s a sin from you. We saw the need in our city and knew we had the sin omission. We were doing nothing about it. We prayed and asked God how to help the food insecure in our community. God gave us the idea to create food boxes, and then families in Birmingham could deliver them to people who were hungry around the community.
How does your organization seek to cultivate community?
Before COVID, we delivered food boxes to families all over the city who did not have transportation or were working multiple jobs and couldn’t get to us. Each family that delivered was assigned four to five families. Typically, they connected with at least one or two of the families in a deep, meaningful way — more than just “Here’s your food box.”
People were helping with tutoring, going out to dinner together, meeting at the park to play chess, studying the Bible together … They were becoming friends. Grace Klein Community has always been an amazing way for people to build relationships with each other, and food is just how we’re able to do it.
Tell us more about Feed BHM.
After doing the food boxes, we realized that food was being thrown away — good food — at different locations around the city. So in 2013, we started our food rescue program. It is now called FeedBHM. We’re finding good food from produce companies, grocery stores, restaurants, and catered events. [The food is] still good — in the past, it was going to the landfill. Now, instead of filling landfills, we can fill plates.
Our app allows volunteers to help us retrieve all of this good food seven days a week, and the food rescue is handled 100 percent by volunteers. We have a small staff — maybe 14 people. Yet, because people are working together, we’re feeding over 44,000 people in a month.
Last year, we provided food to food insecure families in 40 of the 67 Alabama counties. That’s thanks to our food distribution partners who come and receive food from us.
What’s the meaning of the name Grace Klein?
Grace Klein means “little gift from God.” When you receive a food box with cucumbers, apples, fresh organic meat, bread, and a dairy product, that’s a little gift from God. But the big gift is Jesus, and we would love for people to realize Jesus never leaves you. He’s going to be there when the food is gone.
Tell us about the book you wrote.
It’s called God Chose the Wrong Person. I think a lot of us have felt like, God, you chose the wrong person. I’m not the right person for this task. That’s definitely how I felt about Grace Klein Community. I’m just this normal person. Why would You choose me to run this organization? I’m in over my head. Every morning I’m like, OK, God, you’ve got to do it because I can’t do this.
God’s been showing me — and it’s a universal message for all of us — that we can all feel like the wrong person. God chooses the “wrong” people because He wants to make us the right people.
That’s what the book is about. It’s helping people see that if you feel like you’re the wrong person, let God transform you because He’s making you the right person. He’s picked you. He’s chosen you from exactly where you are, and He has such a great plan for your life.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
I love to read and learn new things. I enjoy being outdoors, spending time at the lake or hiking with friends, and enjoying God’s creation.
My husband Jason and I love to have adventures, and we love Birmingham. There are so many free date nights in Birmingham. It’s so fun to tell people, “You can go to this art gallery for a night out, or you can go to this park for a festival.” Go to Botanical Gardens or Aldridge Gardens. We love to find all of the hidden secrets of Birmingham. Then we are able to give people ideas.
Just because you don’t have financial resources doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing adventures that await you in our city.
What are some of your favorite books?
Safely Home by Randy Alcorn. It’s fiction, and I usually don’t recommend fiction, but I think everyone should read it. It just is an awakening of “Do we really live what we say we value?”
Ian Cron’s Chasing Francis. It’s a great example of how what we do every day is what makes us shine. It’s not about whether or not we’re heroes. What some people consider the mundane is actually the most beautiful. It’s the little everyday moments of our lives that change the world.
What’s the best advice you have to offer?
Stay behind Jesus and let him receive the glory for your life. He’s got such a big, incredible plan for each of our lives; we can’t even fathom it. We don’t even think that big. So, if we can stay behind him, he will take us to places and adventures we would never have dreamed of.
He’s showing me a concept called “the compounding yes.” If we say “yes” to what he asks us to do today, then that “yes” builds on the next “yes” and the next “yes,” and when we look back, all of those yeses have accumulated to what we get to call our amazing life.
Other than faith, family, and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Coffee, a good book, and a cozy blanket.
Thank you, Jenny!