It is the paradox of our times that in this nation of plenty, there still are empty bellies among us.
There are various reasons for poverty and hunger, issues perhaps too complex to solve easily. But whatever the cause, many of our neighbors still need help feeding their families every day. And in a time in which many have lost jobs or homes and can't find another, the need is real.
The dilemma is in the execution: How to gather all the good, edible food that gets thrown out daily by restaurants and supermarkets and get it to the people who need it? It's not that we're short of food; quite the contrary, Americans toss out tons of it every day. The supply is there, and so is the demand. How can we bring them together?
There are ample number of feeding programs and charitable organizations in our community and around Northeast Georgia that work to put meals on empty tables. Trouble is, while one pantry might exhaust its supply of food in no time, others may end up with a surplus. And still more available food may go unclaimed without a comprehensive way to gather and distribute it.
That's why several community agencies are working to create a centralized food distribution center to serve the needs of individual groups that put groceries in the hands of the needy.
Such a warehouse already exists, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which serves 38 counties. But organizers feel a more localized center to gather and distribute food would cut down on the distance and travel expenses involved and help feeding programs offer a greater variety of items.
Thus, the move is afoot to create a centralized food storage center in Northeast Georgia to serve as a clearinghouse for food that would be distributed to various local agencies.
The effort to create such a center has been under way for years, but various obstacles have kept it from coming to fruition. Now the push is on again, and organizers are hoping to get the community behind it so it can finally happen.
"There is plenty of food going to waste ... and there's no reason why anybody in the U.S. should go hungry," said Kay Blackstock, administrative assistant for the North Georgia Community Foundation and project director for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.
"There's just so much more you could do if (the food) was close," said Brenda Wiley of the Lula Connection. "... It would definitely be better pickings."
The goal is simple, but pulling it off isn't. To set up such an operation, local food supply groups need to find a warehouse space of 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, plus shelves, freezers, trucks, forklifts and all the infrastructure to manage such a large quantity of food.
Organizers are looking for possible sites as well as an executive director who can oversee the operation.
Once in place, the center can serve as a focal point for all area feeding program needs, including gathering donations to offset the costs. Individual agencies would share in the remaining costs of maintenance and distribution. They will benefit from the savings of less travel, a considerable concern with fuel prices fluctuating. It also will help them distribute food more effectively in rural areas that are harder to reach.
"We'll do the work that the smaller organizations are scrambling around to do," Blackstock said.
It's a win-win, with the food pantries able to use their resources more wisely and sticking closer to home while serving their communities more efficiently. Businesses looking to offer food can do so with one phone call rather than trying to deal with dozens of various groups scattered throughout the region.
We hope the community can get on board with this effort and help provide the momentum to keep it going until it happens. Nonprofit leaders should help prioritize the food center and see that the right facilities and managers are found.
Once that happens, a kickoff fundraising event could help gather the money that will start filling the shelves with groceries. Area restaurants, grocers and retailers should be willing to pitch in as well and offer what they can to get the operation rolling.
"Hall County has a tremendous amount of resources; it's just a matter of leveraging them," said Bill Bolling, founder of Atlanta Community Food Bank.
"We're so divided. We need a food bank to do more than feed people. We need a food bank to bring us all together."
Wasting food is a sin, especially in a time when so many are in need. The opportunity is there to take what is available and bring it to those who can use it the most. Let's find a way to make it happen.