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Agencies provided free food, COVID-19 testing at soccer complex. And the cars lined up
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The Department of Public Health gives free COVID-19 tests at the Allen Creek Soccer Complex Friday, May 1, 2020, at the same time the Georgia Mountain Food Bank hands out food packages to those in need. - photo by Scott Rogers

Update, May 11: Of those tested May 1, the Department of Public Health reported that 470 were negative for COVID-19 and 28 positive. That's about 6% of those tested.

District 2 Public Health director Pamela Logan and her team have been testing for COVID-19 at the Allen Creek Soccer Complex in Gainesville for the past six weeks now, but Friday’s testing was special.

Cars began lining up outside the facility as early as 7 a.m. to get free tests and packages of  food provided by the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. 

Masked food bank workers unpacked and sorted boxes of fresh meat and produce from the back of a refrigerated truck recently provided by the Georgia Food Bank Association while DPH nurses prepared to greet prospective testing patients at a previously setup pre-screening tent. 

By the 8:30 a.m. starting time, the line of cars had already extended beyond the Allen Creek Soccer Complex parking lot entry road. By the end of the day, 498 tests had been completed.

The partnership between the food bank and the DPH was the type Logan sees as essential as COVID-19 alters lives and the community. 

“We can’t do it all alone,” Logan said. “We can test people, but they need so much more than testing right now. In times like these, collaborating is more important than ever before.”

On the testing side, the event provided better access. 

Logan’s team has been providing tests on an appointment basis only, but that was not the case Friday.

Anyone interested in being tested could drive up, go through a brief screening process and receive a nasal swab without ever having to leave their car. 

“The whole process from start to finish is not more than three minutes,” Logan said. 

Lab results should be provided within three to four days, according to Logan. 

She said she wanted to hold the special testing event because of the barrier the appointment-only system posed to some patients, particularly those who do not speak English. While the department’s phone line does provide services in English and Spanish, Logan said she doesn't want a language barrier to come between sick residents and COVID-19 testing.

“Making a phone call is still prohibitive for some people,” she said. “We’re hoping to break down that barrier.”

Before or after testing, families in need were only a short drive across the parking lot from receiving boxes of food as well. 

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank provided 7,000 pounds worth of chicken, produce, bread and other baked goods to be loaded into car trunks and shipped home with hungry residents. 

Georgia Mountain Food Bank Director Kay Blackstock said joining up for a collaborative event with the DPH was an easy decision.

“(Logan) reached out to me and said ‘We’re going to do this testing event, and we’ve not done an event with food. Would you want to partner with us?’” Blackstock said. “And I said ‘Of course.’ It was a no-brainer.”

Blackstock said the food provided by Georgia Mountain Food Bank would be enough for 35,000 meals. Between that and the increased volume of testing, the collaboration between the two organizations provided relief for hundreds of local families. 

Logan said she hopes the event is just the first opportunity of many for the DPH and the Georgia Mountain Food Bank to cooperate for the good of the community.

“They were so excited to work with us, and we are excited to work with them as well,” Logan said. “We’re hoping this will be a partnership that we will be able to continue for the community.”