When: Distribution days are 5-7 p.m. Mondays and 9-11 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays
Where: 1220 McEver Road, Gainesville
More info: cbamissions.org/good-samaritan or 770- 532-3371
Alvin Bagwell has wanted to help others since childhood.
When he was in the third grade, he remembers eating an apple on the playground when a boy asked him what he was going to do with the core.
“I’ll never forget,” Bagwell said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘I’ve never had an apple before.’
“It made an impression on me, and at that point I tossed him my apple.”
It led him to his current career as director of Good Samaritan Food Bank in Gainesville.
BY THE NUMBERS
Bagwell explained 22 to 25 percent of the population in Northeast Georgia and around the country is struggling to put food on the table.
“We are so busy in our lives we don’t realize that maybe our next door neighbor is struggling to put groceries on the table for the kids,” he said. “That’s a lot just in Northeast Georgia. That means one 1 out of 4 people are having struggles.”
Bagwell has been director at Good Samaritan for 4 1/2 years. When he took over the reins, the food bank served about 15,000 people annually. In 2016, Good Samaritan’s numbers jumped to 64,000 people, with 34 percent being children.
“We have steadily grown 33 to 35 percent every year,” he said, adding the percent change from 2015 to 2016 had slowed to 22 percent.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “It says some things are getting better, maybe some people are getting off (food programs) and getting help.”
One such person receiving the help is single mom, Ashley, who wished not to use her last name. She said she works part-time, cares for her aging parents and helps her widowed sister.
Ashley, a divorced mother of two teenagers, has been going to Good Samaritan on-and-off for the past three years.
Her family is just one of the families who are helped by Good Samaritan, whose focus is to help as many people who are struggling as possible, especially people with children, Bagwell said.
“I think in a country that’s been blessed like America there should be no poverty, there should be no hunger,” he said. “If we would all take care of the people around us, I don’t think we’d have this program.”
To receive groceries, participants are required to present a photo identification, fill out a short application and meet with a Good Samaritan counselor. Clients may receive groceries the first day they apply, then are eligible for more every 45 days. Options for more food are available between the 45-day pick-up limitations.
Currently Good Samaritan distributes food three days a week: 5-7 p.m. Mondays and 9-11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Bagwell said it’s not unusual to find 60 individuals waiting outside of its McEver Road center on a distribution day. Volunteers work to meet clients’ needs by processing them quickly through the line. They can usually move 150 to 200 families through in one to two hours. About 450 families are served throughout the week.
Good Samaritan receives its food and other products through donations or purchases. Bagwell said the nonprofit purchases about 35 percent of the goods for clients. Individuals and area businesses donate the remaining 65 percent.
Good Samaritan’s clients tend to fall into the middle and lower class. They are people who respond daily to financial responsibilities, Bagwell said. They often have to make decisions between putting gas in their car to get to work or paying medical expenses, he said. Bagwell said if they get a major expense, such as a large car repair bill or medical bill, it’s usually catastrophic.
“For them, it’s a domino effect,” he said. “If they have a breakdown on a car or something, how will they pay their rent? How will they put gas in their car? Will they lose their job because they can’t get to work without gas?”
Bagwell said Good Samaritan also has purposefully started reaching out to more Hispanic and African-American populations in the last year.
After noticing transportation proved problematic for some of Hispanic clients, Good Samaritan set up a distribution point from 6-9 p.m. every Tuesday at the church, Pozo de Esperanza, 1261 Atlanta Highway in Gainesville.
Bagwell said from a religious standpoint, he and other volunteers are following Jesus’ example. “Jesus told us to do it,” he said. “That was a requirement. Going from Old Testament to the New Testament, you’ll find that all the way through, help the needy.”
To help as many people as possible, Good Samaritan utilizes volunteers to reach its goals of serving the community. Adults must be 18 years old to volunteer. Youth volunteers may be as young as 12 years old.
When a person chooses to volunteer, he or she fills out an application and meets Bagwell. Volunteers then pick an area in which to work. Some of the jobs include counseling clients, going over paperwork, sorting food and helping clients with their food.
“We like to find an area that complements who they are and with that I have very low turnover,” Bagwell said.
Volunteering, however, can be a double-edged sword. Federal regulations prevent volunteers from receiving food.
“So if a person is getting groceries and say they want to give back, I have to tell them no because it’s a federal rule,” Bagwell said.
Phyllis Simmons has been volunteering for Good Samaritan for three years. She works two days a week processing paperwork, counseling clients, helping stock cabinets and wherever else she’s needed. Friends encouraged the Flowery Branch woman, who retired from the school system in 2013, to volunteer there.
“I did and I love it,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
Being a Good Samaritan volunteer isn’t for everyone, though, she warned.
“You have to be able to leave things there,” she said. “You can’t take it home with you because we hear so many stories and so many people are in need or are hurting. If you were to bring everything home with you and keep it inside of you and try to fix it, that hurts because we can’t.”
Volunteers also have to love what they do and love everyone.
Simmons said she likes counseling clients and talking with them individually. She said it makes a difference.
A few weeks back, Simmons spoke with a man who lost his job and was looking for work to support his family. After praying with him and giving him a few job leads, Simmons helped him with his food. A few minutes later, he tapped her shoulder to say someone had just offered him a job.
“Things like that just thrill you,” she said. “When people come back and say I got a job, thanks for helping me with a job, that’s our pay.”