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Food bank hits milestone, now seeks new home
Georgia Mountain group gathers 1 million pounds but needs more storage space
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Forklift operator Wayne Shelton drops off a pallet of food for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

After distributing more than 1 million pounds of food across five counties, one local food bank is ready to keep growing — they just need to find the right space.

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank in Flowery Branch has distributed 1.2 million pounds of food — around 900,000 meals — to partner agencies in the area, and a three-truck delivery Thursday afternoon puts that number even higher.

But despite this success, the food bank is limited in its abilities, said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the bank.

“We want to encourage the local donations and capture the food that we know we can be capturing,” she said. “But when we don’t have the facility to do it, it makes it very difficult on us.”

The food bank operates out of a facility owned by Hollis Transport. When a delivery comes in, the bank stores refrigerated items in a 24-foot box truck and frozen items in a 44-foot trailer, both containing the appropriate temperature-control units. Dry goods are kept in the food bank’s section of Hollis Transport’s warehouse space.

“The problem that we have is if we get 30 or 40 cases of frozen product and we can’t find a home for it very quickly, then we have an issue,” Blackstock said.

The food bank operates as an affiliate of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, a member of the national Feeding America which monitors the quality of food donations and storage facilities, Blackstock said.

“That’s the reason that we don’t hold product long here,” she said. “Because this isn’t a food-grade warehouse.”

But she said a new home for the food bank is already in the works. Food bank board members have formed a special committee to pursue a new space, and two locations in Hall County are possibilities.

“Both of them are very supportive of our mission and our works,” Blackstock said. “And both are trying to be very flexible with us.”

The group is planning fundraising drives to get the money it would need to move to their new facility, and Blackstock said it will take the support of an entire community to reach that goal. She said she hopes the move will happen before the end of the year, possibly by the end of the summer.

Limited space isn’t going to stop the operation, though, and the bank will work to bring distribution even higher than the million-pound milestone.

For John Nix, vice chairman of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank Board of Directors, distributing more than 1 million pounds of food to partner agencies such as food pantries, shelters and group homes, is “heartwarming.”

“It really gets us fired up to take the food bank forward and increase that million pounds to 2,3,4 or 5 million pounds,” Nix said.

Board member Jackie Wallace, president of the United Way of Hall County, also recognized the importance of the food bank.

“Self sufficiency is one of the focus areas for United Way,” she said. “And having adequate food is part of being self sufficient and critical to being healthy.”

The food bank serves Hall, Lumpkin, Union, Dawson and Forsyth counties, four of which had more than 10 percent of their total population for 2008 living below the poverty line.

“The need’s not going away,” Blackstock said. “Unfortunately, with the state of the economy, we’re not seeing people rebound from this as quickly. There are people who have never had to reach out for help before. It’s an unprecedented time of need.”

And with great need in the area comes the need to keep improving the food bank’s operation.

“We could keep doing it like this, but we’re going to be limited,” Blackstock said. “We want to keep expanding because there certainly are a lot more people that we could be reaching.”

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