Chick-fil-A employees and volunteers in New Holland spent Wednesday morning making 10,000 meals of red lentil jambalaya, but don’t look for it on the menu.

To celebrate the opening of the new location on Jesse Jewell Parkway in the growing area of Gainesville, owner/operator Bobby Shoemaker worked with Feeding Children Everywhere to buy and bag 10,000 meals that were donated to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

The bags have a shelf life of two years, according to Steve Mueller, operations director of the food bank, and represent between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds of food.

Mueller and food bank Director Kay Blackstock said some of their most sought-after items are nonperishables — food with a long enough storage life to stay until it’s needed in a household.

‘We’re absolutely thrilled because shelf-stable product is always in demand for us,” Blackstock said.

Mueller chimed in that it was “difficult to come by and hard to hold,” noting that “it probably won’t last through next week.”

The meals will be worked into the food bank’s Neighborhood Fresh program, a new project that involves taking fresh produce into neighborhoods full of people who rely on the bank.

“We’ll not only be taking and dropping off food, we’ll be giving cooking tips and recipes and those kinds of things to try to get a paradigm shift going,” Blackstock said, adding that the aim is to improve the eating habits of low-income Georgians, who often rely on cheap and fast food on limited incomes.

The work on Wednesday was thanks to Shoemaker and his hope to pull a service project into the opening of his second Chick-fil-A in the Gainesville area. He owns the location on Dawsonville Highway as well.

The new location opens at 6 a.m. Thursday, and the first 100 customers receive a year’s worth of free Chick-fil-A delivered as one free meal a week for 52 weeks.

As expected, dozens of people showed up bright and early on Wednesday — so why not put them to work to do some good?

Volunteers worked alongside Shoemaker, Blackstock and other employees stuffing the bags of food on Wednesday.

“The food gets to stay locally for the families here in Hall County,” Shoemaker said. “We want to make a difference.”

Along with the food, the New Holland Chick-fil-A was collecting book donations in a custom wooden box built by A Better Way Ministries, an Atlanta treatment center for men working through substance abuse.

“The ministry there, in their healing they build those boxes,” Shoemaker said. “We purchased those boxes, and we asked our guests throughout the week to come and make contributions, and then that (box) is going to be donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Hall County.”

By Nick Bowman
Published in the Gainesville Times, July 26, 2017