Sometimes we forget that there are a lot of good people on this earth doing good things. I was reminded of that by my friend, Jack Cookston, who recently had some medical issues that required him to cart around an oxygen tank wherever he went. (Happily, his health has improved and the oxygen tank is history.)
Cookston said he was overwhelmed at the kindness of strangers who opened doors for him, anonymously bought his dinner at a local restaurant; offered him encouragement and generally showed a generosity of spirit that doesn’t come through on the evening news.
I thought of Jack Cookston’s observations when I traveled to Gainesville recently to visit the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, operated by a group of good people who have that same generosity of spirit.
I have a warm spot for Gainesville and Hall County. The area hosted the rowing venue in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and did a great job. A lot of the cities that had lobbied hard for an Olympic venue suddenly wanted the organizing committee to pay for any and all costs they occurred in staging the venue and whined and complained as though we had dumped toxic waste on their doorstep.
Not Gainesville. The folks there get my gold medal for their cooperation.
One of the driving forces in the creation of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank was Jim Mathis, a longtime community leader in Hall County. Not surprisingly, Mathis was also a major contributor in the success of the rowing venue, which is still in business. That was one reason I made a pilgrimage to Gainesville. I wanted to thank him in person for not whining and complaining in 1996.
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank is no small operation. In 2014, the enterprise served more than 3 million meals in a five-county area through more than 58 partner agencies. Much of the food is donated from food distributors and manufacturers and safely stored in their 20,000-square-foot building, where some 3,700 volunteers spent more than 9,000 hours packing food boxes. Impressive numbers, but to say they are satisfied with their good works would be inaccurate. Good people always think they can do even more good.
Kay Blackstock, the organization’s executive director, says that currently one in five Georgians are “food insecure.” That is a polite way of saying that too many people living in the richest country on earth and in one of its fastest-growing states are going hungry every day, including children, senior citizens and the disabled. That ought to keep us awake at night with guilt, particularly after we have scraped half a meal down the disposal or fed it to the dog.
Richard Riley, a longtime friend from our days in the communications business, is a member of the board who could be enjoying a well-earned retirement. Instead, he is devoting his time and talent — and passion — to bringing in more resources to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.
“It doesn’t take much to make a difference,” he says. “One dollar can feed five people.”
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank is one of nine community food banks operating across Georgia. Others include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Chattanooga Food Bank which serves Dalton and northwest Georgia; the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, operating out of Athens; Feeding the Valley in Columbus; the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, serving the Macon area; Golden Harvest Food Bank of Augusta; Second Harvest of South Georgia which includes both the Albany and Valdosta areas and America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia headquartered in Savannah.
While the locations vary, they have one thing in common, says Blackstock: “We are always in need of the three F’s — food, funds and friends.”
They also have something else in common. They are operated by good people who can’t be comfortable whenever there is someone in need. They could use your help.
As Cookston discovered while lugging around his oxygen tank and as the dedicated folks at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank showed me during my visit, there are still a lot of good people around doing good things — whether opening a door for someone who isn’t able or feeding the hungry.
Perhaps if there were more of us helping those who can’t help themselves instead of sitting on our duffs and complaining about the world going to hell in a wheelbarrow, we might just make that world a better one for all of us. After all, isn’t that what good people do?