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Looking for loaves and fish
The number of needy families grows along with the cost of food, and food pantries feel the pinch
Volunteer James Dunn Jr. carries a box of food out of the store room at the Good Samaritan Ministry of the Chattahoochee Baptist Association. - photo by Tom Reed

As food and gas prices skyrocket, local food pantries are feeling the pain.

The Good Samaritan Ministry at the Chattahoochee Baptist Association is no stranger to the slump in the economy.

"This is unbelievable what is happening here," said Mike Walston, the director of church and community ministries at the Chattahoochee Baptist Association. "We are about 700 families ahead of this time last year, which is enormous for us. We normally would do about 300 families a month and we've been doing around 500 families a month."

Walston had a simple explanation for the increase in needy families.

"They are out of jobs, gas has gone out of sight, the gas situation is eating them up and the cost of food has gone way up."

Brenda Wiley, with the faith-based Lula Connection that is funded by local churches in Lula, said need in her community also is on the rise.

"(In January) it took $300 to feed them (100 families) and it has gone from $300 to $600," she said. "Last month we had 30 families more than normal. This time when we were open in May and we had 50 more families than we normally have. We turned 27 families away ... it hurts, it really does."

Wiley is the most frustrated because she knows food is available for the needy.

"I know the food is out there and I know where it needs to go," said Wiley, who has headed up the food pantry for 16 years. "Sometimes that takes a while to get it there. We went back to purchase food for next month and we (spent) an extra $200."

Walston said typically Good Samaritan Ministries, which also ministers to each family in need, would put together a $90 box of food for families and now that same box of food costs from $150 to $200.

"We have had a shortage of canned foods, which we will replenish because the post office is doing us a big drive tomorrow and they will let us have it since we are the biggest local food pantry," Walston said.

Today, by donating nonperishable foods to your letter carrier, you can help stock local food banks.

Letter carriers all around the country are participating in Stamp Out Hunger, the largest one-day food collection in the nation, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers Web site.

Just place the food items in a bag near the mailbox and carriers will pick it up to help restock community food banks, pantries and shelters.

Help for Hall County is also coming from the Georgia Mountain Food Bank through the North Georgia Community Foundation.

The new food bank, which serves as a distributor to local food pantries, will alleviate some of the pressure that the Northeast Georgia Food Bank and the Atlanta Community Bank carries now.

"As the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, we can make relationships with grocery stores and food distribution companies here in Hall County and solicit donations," said Kay Blackstock, the project coordinator for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and administrative assistant with the North Georgia Community Foundation. "We will have the ability to bring in huge donations ... whether it be from the poultry industry or PFG or whomever; if they have 20, 50 or 100 cases of cheese or butter ... who has the space to store that? We will."

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank is expected to be open and running by the end of 2008 and will initially serve Hall County. Currently the local pantries receive food from the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Northeast Georgia Food Bank in Athens.

Blackstock brought together all the nonprofit groups that would benefit from the food bank on Tuesday to talk about their concerns and needs. She said faith-based organizations really are the heart of the food distribution in Northeast Georgia.

"We had about 40 folks, and I would say that would be representative of about 20 (organizations); most of them are faith based," Blackstock said. "The great thing that we found out of this meeting is that these folks really appreciated having an opportunity to come together and talk about what they are seeing and what their needs are ... the food bank will be a forum, if you will, of bringing these people together."

Walston is very excited about the Georgia Mountain Food Bank making a home in Hall County, and he said we desperately need a facility.

"We see the need getting a whole lot worse than what it is," he said. "We probably have 15 volunteers working in here right now to make this thing fly."

Volunteers at the Good Samaritan Ministry sort food and put together boxes for each family for three pick-up days each week. The package weighs about 100 pounds.

"They will get canned foods, fresh bread and eggs, they'll get a thing of meat, cold cuts, fresh fruits and vegetables and drinks and a ton of sweets," Walston said.

The Lula Connection, which is open once a month, also puts together the basics for those in need.

"We have ground beef, sometimes we have cheese, sometimes we have butter and we always have bread," she said. "I am just hoping to get a donation of eggs."

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