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Georgia Mountain Food Bank plans strategy with agency partners
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Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, talks to representatives of the food bank’s partner agencies Friday at the annual Agency Conference. - photo by Kristen Oliver

Georgia Mountain Food Bank

Where: 1642 Calvary Industrial Drive, SW, Gainesville

Phone: 770-534-4111

Website: www.gamountainfoodbank.org

A large, airy storage area at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank is usually stocked full with canned and boxed foods and goods. But Friday afternoon, the room was decorated and full of people enjoying a gourmet meal.

The food bank held its annual Agency Conference for its partner agencies Friday. Representatives from 18 partner agencies in all five counties — Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Lumpkin and Union — spent the day collaborating in an effort to collectively improve the region’s approach to food distribution.

“One of the things I committed to as an agency coordinator is to train and equip our agencies to do a better job in the community,” said Lydia Johnson, agency services coordinator for the food bank. “But how do you train to be a better food pantry? That’s been a bit of a challenge, but this conference is one of the ways we do that.”

This year’s conference theme was “What are the tools in your tool box?” Topics included poverty training, benefits screening, pantry efficiencies and volunteer recruitment and retention.

“We tried to give them a variety of things to use,” Johnson said. “That’s really important to me. My background was in working for the government. I’d go to a training and come back and think, ‘I just sat there for three hours for no reason.’ We don’t want this to be that way.

“I want them to leave here and know that tomorrow, they can take what they learned and apply it immediately.”

Partner agencies in attendance included Abba House, Community Helping Place, Georgia Calls, Meals by Grace, House of Prayer, the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County, Lula Shared Blessing, Ric-Rack, Sunshine Seniors, Dawson County Family Connections, Forsyth County United Way, Family Connections, and area churches.

One partner, The Place of Forsyth County, provided a luncheon created from typical foods found at a food bank or pantry.

The Place provides emergency assistance in the form of finances, clothing food and more. It includes a workforce development initiative to help young people and the unemployed prepare for and find work.

“We are all about capturing young adults who are at risk or just in transition in life,” said Alex Cook with The Place’s culinary arts training program. “We teach them culinary arts. But the real foundation of our program is to provide them with life skills, to walk with them and journey with them and help them experience life through a healthy eye and a healthy heart.”

Cook brought several young people Friday who helped prepare the meal, serve it to guests and enjoy it with those in attendance. Some of them grew up in foster care, while others were in places of difficult transition, but the culinary arts program gave them purpose.

“It’s not just fluff and feel-good,” Cook said. “This thing works, and it will continue to work provided it has the support of communities and partnerships like this.”

Johnson agreed.

“There are very few ways for us to say ‘thank you,’” she said. “So this is my way to spoil everyone. These are our heroes in the community, and they are often taken for granted.”

Regional events