By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Food programs help families make ends meet
Nearly 23,000 Hall County residents are unsure where they will find their next meal
Roasted turkeys cool before they are picked clean Wednesday morning at Riverbend Baptist Church. Volunteers from the church, as well as other area churches, prepared the annual Good News at Noon Thanksgiving meal in the church's larger kitchen.

Hunger by the numbers

• 1 in 5 residents of Georgia are food insecure

• 1 in 7 Americans are food insecure

• 22,810 Hall County residents are food insecure

• 47,590 people in Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and Union counties combined are food insecure

Note: Food insecurity means not knowing where the next meal is going to come from

Local and state food programs

• The University of North Georgia provides free meals to children in eight counties, including Hall, through its Summer Food Service program. Contact Jodi Carlyle for more information: or 678-717-3818.

• Georgia is one of 17 states that allows a standard medical expense deduction when determining food stamp eligibility for seniors and disabled individuals. The policy will impact about 27 percent of the 1.8 million Georgians currently receiving food stamps. For more information, visit

• Donations to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1642 Calvary Church Road in Gainesville. Call 770-534-4111 for more information

• Action Ministries hunger program Smart Lunch Smart Kid summer feeding program. For those who receive free or reduced lunches. Take to kids at apartment complexes, remove transportation barrier

• South Hall Community Food Pantry — provides free food on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at its location in Oakwood behind the community pool on the First United Methodist campus. For more information, call 678-865-6588 or visit

• Good News at Noon shelter — free meals served daily. Call 770-503-1366 for more information, or visit 979 Davis Street in Gainesville.

• The Way ministry — provides meals, counseling and job assistance to those in need. Contact Pastor Jerry Deyton for more information at 678-776-3098 or Way is located at 857 Bradford Street in the industrial area of Gainesville.  

• Migrant food program — Hall County Schools partners with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank to provide food assistance to local migrant families. For more information, contact Vanesa Sarazua, migrant program facilitator, at 770-534-9123, ext. 5, or at

• Backpack Love — Straight Street Revolution accepts nonperishable food items in plastic or canned containers to feed families of four or five, as well as family games for the holidays. Contact Todd Robson at 770-540-2437 for more information, or visit them at 2076 Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville from 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Brenda Vargas is thankful today that two of her children who attend Fair Street Elementary in Gainesville receive free lunches every school day.

“It helps a lot, especially for people like me,” she said.

Vargas, 30, works and goes to school to support her three children — Angel, 10, Miah, 6, and Nathan, 3 — and provide them a better life.

But like it is for many Americans, food assistance is critical to helping Vargas make ends meet.

Fortunately, now more than ever, local schools are meeting the food needs of students, which goes a long way toward their educational success.

“I know every parent is responsible for good nutrition,” Vargas said, adding that good, healthy food helps her children stay focused and better retain knowledge.

Children in poverty eat less nutritious food than their peers, according to a recent review of 25 studies published between 2003 and 2014 that analyzed food spending and the dietary quality of food stamp participants.

Angel, who is in fourth grade, learns about healthy eating habits in class, and he’s excited to show off what he’s learned about calorie intake and baking.

“It’s a fun class,” he said.

In a world where food seems cheap, fast and plentiful, it can be hard to believe that people struggle with access to a good meal.  

“Tackling hunger is a big job,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “Finding food sources to meet the extended growth in demand for emergency food assistance can be quite challenging.”

More than 800 million people worldwide are “food insecure,” meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from, and 48 million in the United States alone, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks.

4 places those in need can find a Thanksgiving meal in Gainesville

One in 5 Georgians are “food insecure,” according to the Georgia Food Bank Association, one of the highest totals of any state. And nearly 23,000 Hall County residents are unsure where they will find their next meal.  

The GMFB partners with 59 agencies to serve meals to more than 47,000 food insecure individuals across five North Georgia counties — Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and Union.

GMFB provided more than 3.1 million meals in 2014, an increase of 400,000 over the previous year.

But about 17,500 people each month in the GMFB service area have unmet food needs, and they sometimes have to make tough choices between eating a meal and paying the bills.  

There were 7,497 food stamp recipients in Hall in 2014, with whites accounting for 52.6 percent of all recipients, African-Americans 20.4 percent and Latinos 23.9 percent.

A major problem that food banks across the country face is the amount of waste that occurs.

About 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is not eaten, and the average family four wastes between $1,365 and $2,275 on food each year.

That’s a lot of food for a lot of people in need.

In Gainesville City Schools, all students are offered one meal a day at no cost.

And in the Hall County School District, about 59 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

“Our community, along with clubs within the schools, has numerous activities designed to get food into the hands of families in need,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. “Probably the biggest change we have seen in the wake of the Great Recession is the level of situational poverty.  A lot of families who have never experienced hardship have found themselves in dire circumstances.”  

For example, Hall operates a food program for local migrant families supported by the GMFB.

“When I first started working with this population, I soon realized they needed much more than to fill the educational gap that their mobility and lifestyle was causing,” Vanesa Sarazua, migrant program facilitator, said.

About 420 students come from migrant families who work in agriculture and in poultry plants, traveling with the seasons.

“These children lacked access to health care and basic things which we take for granted,” Sarazua said. “They came to school without supplies, broken pencils and no paper. They were hungry. They did not have appropriate clothes, and the ones they did have were torn or dirty.”

In addition, Hall County serves breakfast and lunch in 15 schools during June and July under the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch Program, according to Cheryl Jones, food service director.

And Action Ministries in Gainesville also steps in when students are out of school.

“In the summertime, that meal disappears,” Executive Director Terri Armour said.

This past summer, Armour said Action Ministries delivered meals to local apartment complexes where low-income students reside Monday through Friday for a total of 10 weeks. More than 15,000 lunches were served in all.

Vargas’ children also benefit from the Backpack Love program, which sends students home at the end of the week with nonperishable food such as pasta, canned food and granola.

“It’s an amazing school,” Vargas said. “We’re so thankful.”

Regional events