Nonprofits, community groups gear up for post-storm demand
By Joshua Silvent
Local nonprofits and community groups spent Thursday rebooting services for those in need as the storm lifted and the big thaw set in.
With snow and ice melting into slushy pools on area roadways, promising relief from days of shuttered services, aid organizations began ramping up for the likelihood of increased demand this weekend.
“We’re expecting that, once people have a chance to get out, they will be looking for our help,” said Carol Williams, treasurer at the South Hall Community Food Pantry. “We do feel like there will be a need when we’re able to reopen.”
The pantry remained closed Thursday, but operations are expected to resume Saturday, when demand will be high.
Williams said the pantry provided food staples to twice as many families than average in the days before the storm hit, as residents of Hall County anticipated the worst-case scenario.
“That was a significant increase for us,” she added.
Volunteers and staff at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which serves 58 food pantries in five counties, including the South Hall branch, were busy getting ready to deliver canned goods and other items beginning today.
“Of course, we heeded the warnings and started preparing at the beginning of the week,” said Executive Director Kay Blackstock.
Her team ran routes and made deliveries through the initial wave of the snowstorm Tuesday, but had to close Wednesday and Thursday as conditions grew more severe.
Now, Blackstock is optimistic that services can return to normal, though she anticipates a rush on goods following the storm.
“We’re getting ready for business,” she said. “We do expect to see some beehive activity tomorrow.”
The Salvation Army in Gainesville also is gearing up to handle an expected increase in demand for services. Corps Officer Matt Cunningham said he expects a surge in requests for food and vouchers as local residents have missed days of work during the storm and suffered a hit to their income.
“I’m sure we’ll be doling out a lot of food,” he added. “We’ll be open (today) for business for those who need help.”
At My Sister’s Place, a Gainesville shelter for homeless women and children, demand for services came from unlikely sources as the storm did its damage.
“We did get calls from people looking for shelter,” including from several men, said Managing Director Brandee Thomas.
Thomas said the shelter has been at capacity for weeks, with about 18 residents, but the calls for help during the storm have her thinking about ways to expand services for needy women and children when inclement weather strikes again.
“So in the future, once we are able to have that transitional housing, in situations like this maybe we could open that up as a sort of emergency shelter,” Thomas said.
Caring for the needs of the elderly and disabled was a big concern expressed by nonprofits and community groups.
Officials at the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center were playing it by ear to determine whether the Senior Life Center and Meal on Wheels program would be able to operate again beginning today after being shuttered during the storm.
In the meantime, Meal on Wheels directors were making calls and personal visits to program recipients as necessary, checking on their needs and ensuring they had made it through the storm with ample food to spare. Officials said they were most concerned about the lack of human interaction available to elderly recipients during the last few days.
Shon Peppers, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, said he visited with many of the congregation’s elderly members on Monday to ensure they had enough food, medicine and other goods necessary to wait out the storm. Peppers said he would meet with church staff Thursday afternoon to coordinate its response and services for senior citizens now that the storm has passed.
“We’re going to go back in and re-evaluate,” he added. “We’ve got people all over the Gainesville-Hall County community ... we can always get someone there to help with needs.”