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Georgia Mountain Food Bank plans this massive expansion thanks to $2M grant
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Georgia Mountain Food Bank will receive a grant of $2.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. They are planning to expand their facility over the next couple years to store more food. - photo by Scott Rogers

Georgia Mountain Food Bank plans to expand its facility as part of a nearly $3 million project that will add needed refrigerated space after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a big increase in demand. 

The food bank received about $2.2 million from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs at the end of last year to expand its facility by 10,000 square feet, as well as hiring three new staff members and acquiring land to add parking. 

The food bank, which serves Dawson, Forsyth, Union, Lumpkin and Hall counties, has been looking to expand for years, Executive Director Kay Blackstock said. 

“Every dollar makes a difference,” Blackstock said. “This will allow us to take in more produce, keep it longer than we normally would be. It’ll give us additional staff capacity. It’s going to make our outreach a whole lot bigger than it is right now.”

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Kay Blackstock, executive director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank, walks past trucks Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, at the food bank on Calvary Industrial Boulevard. Georgia Mountain Food Bank is getting a grant from American Rescue Plan Act funds of $2.8 million. They plan to expand their facility over the next couple of years to store more food. - photo by Scott Rogers

The current facility is about 22,000 square feet, Blackstock said, so the two-story expansion will be significant, including office space, a meeting room and storage space. Food bank leaders expressed some concern about being able to finish the project in time, because the grant money, funded by federal dollars and distributed by the state, comes with some requirements. 

“We are on very, very, very strict timelines,” said Rebecca Thurman, director of operations. “It has to be finished by Dec. 31, 2023.” 

All the grant must be spent by that deadline, she said, or else the food bank will not be able to continue to draw funds. Given current supply chain issues and rising construction material costs, the project could end up more expensive than the current plan.

Ten food bank projects around the state received grant funding through community development block grants, with a larger funding pool than in a typical year, fueled by CARES Act funds. The entire pot was about $43 million, and focused on expanding food banks’ capacity in case of another emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The food bank applied through Hall County, and the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission helped write the application. 

“The project was very strong, definitely we demonstrated that the need was there,” said Laruin Yoder, project manager for GMRC who helped write the application.

“It is a very significant and transformational opportunity for the food bank,” said Zach Propes, interim financial services director for Hall County.

The grant provides 75% of the money needed for Georgia Mountain Food Banks’ nearly $3 million project, so it will have to raise more than $700,000 by other means. 

Officials hope that the county will chip in. The county has set aside about $4 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for local nonprofits through a grant application process. Decisions will be made in March, Propes said. 

The application deadline expired at the end of 2021, and it will be competitive with 49 organizations asking for a total of $17.6 million.

The food bank saw a 30% increase in demand for all food in the last two years and about a 25% increase in demand for produce. High-nutrition foods were particularly difficult to come by when grocery stores had a hard time keeping fully stocked shelves. 

“The majority of our product comes from retail salvage,” Thurman said. “You’ve seen what the grocery stores have been like and are being like again. So we’ve had to start purchasing food for the first time in our history.”

Having new refrigerated space will be better for food safety, storage and logistics. 

“It’s about having the ability to be able to bring that in from the USDA and quickly get it back out into the local community,” said Danah Craft, executive director at Georgia Food Bank Association. “But a lot of the time it’s still got to stay one or two days inside the food bank coolers.” 

Blackstock said they were planning on raising all of the money for the expansion through a capital campaign before the pandemic. “We didn’t have any idea that we would be able to do it this quickly. … now we need it more than ever.” 

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Georgia Mountain Food Bank will receive a grant from the American Rescue Plan Act of $2.8 million. They are planning to expand their facility over the next couple years to store more food. - photo by Scott Rogers