Sherri Eddington was used to paying a little money out of her own pocket, almost daily, as a driver for Gainesville Connection transit service. She’d chip in to help people out when they didn’t have enough money to pay the fare.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” said Eddington, now the Neighborhood Fresh program coordinator for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “Now I can do it and it doesn’t come out of pocket.”
To learn more, contact the Georgia Mountain Food Bank at 770-534-4111 or www.gamountainfoodbank.org/
The food bank recently started the Neighborhood Fresh program that takes unsold produce from grocery stores in the area and distributes it to elementary schools, apartment complexes and neighborhoods around Hall County.
The program got help from United Way of Hall County, Jackson EMC’s Operation Round Up and Milton Martin Honda.
“There are so many people out there that I really don’t think they know about the food insecure community,” Eddington said.
Those are the communities the Neighborhood Fresh program focuses on. They’re places throughout the county that don’t have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, and may be limited by transportation, age, disability, serious illness or extreme poverty.
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank started the program in July 2017 and has handed out more than 30,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables at schools with a high concentration of free or reduced lunches, as well as in neighborhoods that are in rural areas or have low-income seniors living in them.
“We look at communities we serve and see where our resources are and where the gaps are and where low-income, low-access citizens live in those communities,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the food bank.
Eddington said that’s why she applied for the program coordinator job, though the advertisement that was about 30 days old. She recently graduated from the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus with a degree in sociology and human services and is now seeking a master’s in gerontology at Brenau University.
Once she got the job, she went to talk to Lighthouse Manor Apartments site manager Carol Coleman about the program. After she explained how it worked and told her it’s free, Coleman came around the counter, crying and thanking her because she knew the residents, all of whom are at least 62 years old, would love it.
“I was very, very elated over that because that’s exactly what this community needs,” Coleman said. “Because they can’t get out and just go to the grocery store whenever they want to.”
Through the Neighborhood Fresh program, Eddington said she’s able to use everything she learned in college to help people in food insecure communities.
“I want people to know that other people care about them, whether they have money or not,” Eddington said.
A big part of helping food insecure communities is educating the population about the best food choices. Blackstock said that’s one reason the food bank is trying the program, aiming to make a long-term difference in people’s lives instead of just a quick fix with groceries.
“We’re trying to create a paradigm shift, if you will, so people will make better choices when they can,” Blackstock said. “When they’re out buying the groceries by themselves, maybe they’ll make a better choice because they’ve had consistent access to it through Neighborhood Fresh.”
For Georgia Mountain Food Bank, that all starts with children at elementary schools throughout Hall County. The food bank has provided deliveries to the after-school program at Lyman Hall Elementary School and most recently at a fresh food market at Tadmore Elementary School.
“The hope is seeing children choosing to eat apples, bananas, grapes and pears instead of candy bars and junk food,” Blackstock said.
The future, Eddington said, is to see the Neighborhood Fresh program expand beyond Hall across the state. The goal is to add a county a year as the program grows.
She’s doing everything she can to make sure Neighborhood Fresh makes a difference here. So far it has, but she hopes to put permanent markets in schools that need it most and allow students to take fresh fruits and vegetables home more often than once a month. If her hopes become reality, they’ll have access to fresh food every day.
“If you ask the kids over at Tadmore what their favorite food is, they’re going to say salad,” Eddington said. “They love the little salad meals we give them.”