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Guest column: Giving thanks, giving back
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The season of giving thanks and giving back is upon us. Somehow, though, this year feels a bit different. Perhaps it is the extended period of extreme economic crisis that has created an explosion of outreach and giving. Almost daily we read or hear about groups or programs that are working together to try to meet a need.

The greatest challenge and need that comes as a result of this economic situation is that more people than ever are at risk of going hungry in America. It is estimated that almost 25 percent of our population is at risk.

This problem is no longer isolated to small groups or pockets, but it is a national epidemic. The face of food insecurity has changed. Working families have been hit hard.

With the economic crisis lingering and more people needing help, our hunger relief system must expand to meet that need. In response, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank has begun construction of a 20,000-square-foot food distribution warehouse here in Hall County. This new facility designed for increased capacity, productivity and efficiency will allow us to distribute a higher quantity and quality of food to people in need.

The warehouse will be equipped with more than 3,000 square feet of refrigerated and freezer space that will ensure that we never have to turn away truckloads of food like fresh produce, milk and poultry. The new facility will also provide us the space and equipment to expand our volunteer and community outreach programs that address child and senior nutrition as well as the root causes of hunger.

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank is a nonprofit service organization dedicated to alleviating hunger by bringing together both private and public sectors to raise awareness of the problem. The primary role of the food bank is to find, rescue and distribute food to hungry people through an efficient network of feeding partners.

The food bank is not a food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter, but in fact is a main provider of food to more than 40 such groups in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. Since beginning operations in October 2008, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank has served as a redistribution organization for the Atlanta Community Food Bank and has collectively distributed enough food for more than 3 million meals. This has all been possible because of the tremendous community support behind the effort.

The center point of our hunger relief expansion is the construction of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank's permanent facility. Seed money for the new facility has come from individuals, businesses and groups to begin the work and leverage funding for completion, infrastructure and operational endowment.

Recognizing the Georgia Mountain Food Bank's contribution to improving the overall health and quality of life, the Medical Center Foundation named the food bank as the recipient of this year's 20th annual Medical Center Foundation Golf Tournament, which raised a record amount of funding designated to provide the cold storage in the new facility. This was made possible by the hard work of volunteers, participants, sponsors and the staff of the Medical Center Foundation.

The emergence and development of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank comes from the foresight of its board of directors, community leaders, donors and friends which has made this a reality, fulfilling the mission to end hunger in Northeast Georgia. The dividends from this bank will change lives forever.

This is a community call. Won't you join us?

Kay Blackstock is executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, 4515 Cantrell Road, Flowery Branch, 770-967-0075, www.gamountainfoodbank.org.

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