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Food pantry feeds families, changes lives

Ministry hoping to help those in need

POSTED: March 15, 2014 1:00 a.m.

A small group of people quietly slipped inside the door of the warehouse and waited in line next to shelves of bread Monday evening.

Alvin Bagwell, director of the Good Samaritan Food and Furniture Bank on McEver Road, welcomed the people and led them in prayer before volunteers began passing out the day’s food.

The food bank is a ministry of the Chattahoochee Baptist Association in partnership with the Feeding America program and is located behind its office in Gainesville. The program operates with the help of 60 volunteers.

In February, the ministry began operating on Monday nights to help more working families. Previously, the food bank was only open during the morning three days a week.

The food bank is now open from 5-7 p.m. Monday and continues to operate from 9-11 a.m. on Wednesday and Friday.

“This helps families where mom and dad both work and they can’t take off to come and get food,” said Jojo Thomas, director of missions for the Chattahoochee Baptist Association. “Even though they have two jobs, they live right on the edge and they need the help. The Monday night switch is just an effort to be more accessible to those families.”

Thomas said people have responded to the new hours positively.

The first Monday night opening brought in about 100 people. An average of 300 needy people come to the ministry every week. In 2012, the food bank served 19,000 people, and 30,000 people in 2013.

“Some of the people (who) come here have mental challenges, physical challenges,” Bagwell said. “We have grandmothers come in here who have inherited their grandchildren or children and grandchildren because times are tough. It is not unusual to have a grandmother sitting in here with tears in her eyes saying ‘I don’t know how I’m going to feed my grandchildren.’”

The program requires recipients to sign in and they’re eligible to receive about 120 pounds of groceries every 90 days. They also can get bread or baked sweets every week.

Much of the food is donated by corporations such as Publix, Target, Wal-Mart and Aldi stores.

Bagwell loaded a box of food onto a push cart and explained that while the boxes and cans might be too dented for the stores to sell, the product inside isn’t damaged and will help a hungry family.

Barbara Baldwin of Gainesville was one of the first people in line Monday night. She said it had been five months since she’d visited the food bank but appreciated being able to get help when she needs it.

“They’ve always been good about supplying the bread and things that you need,” Baldwin said. “They’ve always been fair. They have a lot of people to give food to and stuff.”

The ministry isn’t limited to supplying food. Many people come seeking toiletries or furniture, which are often donated by individuals.

The ministry also offers employment and education counseling through Ninth District Opportunity Inc., a nonprofit organization that works with low-income families.

“We have plans to grow, to expand, to get larger,” Bagwell said. “Our desire is to do more of the training and changing lives, just trying to help people get out of the place where they’re in. We’re here not just to give food. We’re here as a ministry as an assistance. We’re just trying to help people out.”


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