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Georgia Mountain Food Bank looks for help from other sources
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Colton Donino pulls a pallet of food off a refrigerated trailer. - photo by NAT GURLEY

How to help
What: Donate food, money or services to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank
Online: gamountain
In person: 1642 Calvary Industrial Drive SW, Gainesville
More info: 770-534-4111

But she also realizes that Georgia Mountain Food Bank, marking its second anniversary today at its Calvary Industrial Drive location, has hit something of a crossroads.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank affiliate has seen a clear rise in community needs over time but a sharp drop in donated “salvage” foods, or items pulled from shelves because they aren’t selling or are getting close to expiration dates.

“I’ve visited a couple of food banks and it’s evident that product may be slowing down considerably,” said Blackstock, the food bank’s executive director. “We haven’t had a load in quite a while.”

She’s puzzled by the trend, speculating that retailers are finding they can resell salvage foods to other low-cost retailers that are thriving in difficult economic times.

“There’s a market for salvage for now,” Blackstock said.

The food bank’s response, she said, has been hiring an operations director, someone with a background in food distribution and operations management, “to look at ways we can do a better job and serve better.”

That, in turn, “will free me up to do a little more of this procurement process of identifying resources,” Blackstock said. “We know there’s more. It just takes time to develop those relationships and make those connections.”

She said the food bank would “always welcome new food donors,” whether they are through food drives or from food distributors, manufacturers, farmers, growers or just generous residents.

When the food bank moved its operations to the new building, which is also off Calvary Church Road, officials saw the 20,000-square-foot warehouse quickly go from bare shelves to pallets stacked with food throughout the warehouse and coolers.

“When we got into the building, there was this immediate utilization of the resources we had,” Blackstock said, recalling those early days. “We had storage, trucks, people. ... We’ve done nothing but expand since we’ve gotten in the building.”

But there was quick realization of the task ahead, especially with the food bank opening at the end of a devastating recession.

“People are still struggling,” she said. “We’ve got folks who lost their retirements, their homes, everything.”

Blackstock said since the food bank started operations at the end of 2008, it has distributed close to 10 million pounds of food — 2.4 million in the last fiscal year.

The food bank has 36 retail sources and 60 agencies, pantries and other organizations that serve as “feeding partners” in its service area of Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. About 80 percent of the groups that directly serve the public are faith-based, Blackstock said.

Jan Payne, executive pastor at A New Walk, said the food pantry on Bradford Street in Gainesville, is “feeding more people now than we ever had with less provisions than we’ve ever had.”

“It’s not just the food bank,” Payne said. “It’s all of the food pantries also. It trickles down.”

The pantry’s relationship with the food bank is good, she said, but as far as donations go, “people need to step up.”

Chris Austin of Shared Blessings, a food ministry operated by Lula United Methodist Church, said he’s thankful for the food bank’s work.

“It’s just a wonderful, very organized, community-oriented enterprise, and we’re grateful for the help they’ve given us and to the hungry up here in North Georgia,” he said.

Donations of money, as well as food, are also needed.

“Folks can help the most by contributing financially,” Blackstock said. “For every dollar donated, we can provide five meals.”

The organization’s shiny new building ramped up operating costs, and running the food bank’s many programs also is expensive.

“It’s a charitable organization but also a sophisticated business that requires expertise, skill and equipment — things that people maybe don’t think about,” Blackstock said. “This is a logistics company and a food distribution warehouse.”

One thing’s for sure: Needs haven’t gone away.

For example, the food bank started a mobile pantry in February with 333 families, and the list has grown to more than 1,200 families, Blackstock said.

“Two times month, we are distributing food here in Hall County and serving over 400 families each time,” she said.

Blackstock said she was out shopping for a luncheon when she was stopped by a woman, who rolled down her car window, introduced herself and extended her hand.

As the pair shook hands, the stranger went on to thank Blackstock for the food bank’s work, adding, “ It’s really making a difference for my family.”

Blackstock shook her head, recalling the encounter, and flashed a wide smile.

“Those are the moments,” she said.

Times high school intern Tyler Bennett contributed to this report.

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