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Church food bank celebrates a decade of service

Spirit of Joy's pantry 'started by accident,' now relies on grants, donations

POSTED: November 15, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Photos by TOM REED/The Times

Jack Bennett and Wilma Peters fill boxes of food for families to pick up at the Spirit of Joy Church food bank.

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In 2001, Jessie Massey and her son, Jerry Massey, vowed to help others through the Spirit of Joy Church food bank for 10 years.

On Nov. 5, the food bank celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and both of the Masseys are still making sure that those in need have food on their tables.

"The food bank started by accident," said Jessie Massey, food bank director.

"One of the ladies in our church suggested that we put out containers to collect canned goods to give to people in the community who couldn’t afford food for Thanksgiving.

"Our pastor called around to a few people he knew and the next thing you know, we’re at an orientation in Athens to learn how to run a food bank."

The food bank opened and sustained itself for much of the first year with a large contribution from an anonymous donor. Today, its doors remain open through private donations and grant funds.

Massey was one of the founders of the food bank, which operates out of the activity center at the church at 5526 Hog Mountain Road in Flowery Branch. She started out as an assistant, but became the director about six years ago.

Although the food bank has moved around a bit over the years, somehow folks from all over Hall and surrounding counties continue to find their way to it.

"This is our third and final location. We used to be located on Ga. 53, but that church was torn down when (the Georgia Department of Transportation) decided to widen the road," said the Rev. Garen F. Dodson, Spirit of Joy senior pastor.

"Then we moved to a temporary location on Atlanta Highway in downtown Flowery Branch. About 2½ years ago, we got this land and moved into our new facility.

"We’re open twice a month on Saturdays, but if someone calls during the week and say they need food, we’ll open up to help."

That assistance has been greatly appreciated over the years.

"When we first started, there weren’t any food banks in South Hall County. The first day we opened, there were about four families who came out. The next Saturday it doubled, and then it kept on growing," Massey said.

"In the 10 years that we’ve been open, we’ve served 3,486 families. That’s 12,796 people.

"We’re a very small church and we’re pretty self-contained, so to be able to reach that many people is amazing."

Some people find their way to Spirit of Joy through word of mouth, but the distribution facility also receives referrals from United Way and the Department of Family and Children Services, Massey says.

"We allow families to get food once a month for three months. After that, there’s a six-month waiting period and then they can start over," said Massey.

"When we first started, we had mostly elderly people who didn’t have enough food stamps to last the month. Now, we’re seeing younger people who have been laid off coming to us for help.

"I don’t have to read the paper to know about the economy. You can look at the people coming in our back door and tell how bad it is."

Although she’s reached her 10 years of service Massey says she’s staying put for the time being.

"It’s up to God to determine."

The church itself is just as committed.

"Feeding the hungry is something that we are called to do," Dodson said.

"We’re in it for the long haul."



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