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Faces of Hunger: Teresa Nenadic

Married, two children and working a full-time job, Teresa Nenadic was living what most would
see as the ordinary American life.

Then came the instant that derailed “ordinary,” blindsiding Teresa and sending her into a
gradual tailspin that ended with worries over the absolute basics – as in how she and her
children would afford or find their next meal.

Twenty-five years of marriage crumbled on the night Teresa’s husband was arrested for
domestic violence.

“It was one of those life-as-you-know-it-changed-in-the-blink-of-an-eye moments,” said Teresa,
who had been married since age 19, when she moved to Dahlonega and away from her family.
“I had two kids, a boy and a girl, they were 7 and 10 then. I knew it wouldn’t be easy being a
single mom, but it was better than staying there. Also, I didn’t want to move away and uproot
them.”

Teresa’s world was spinning, but, before she could regain control, she watched horrified as the
downward spiral actually accelerated.

A nurse with 18 years of job experience, Teresa suddenly lost employment.

And then the final straw: While hiking with her children, Teresa crossed a decaying wooden
bridge that gave way. In a cruel mirror of what was happening in her life, Teresa crashed to the
earth below, breaking five ribs and collapsing a lung in the process. It was a set of injuries that
sent her to the hospital for a two-week stay, during which doctors drained two liters of blood
from her chest cavity.

The burdens of pain, fear and uncertainty mounted, as Teresa struggled to maintain a normal
life for her children, conduct a job search, recover from her injuries and augment what few
dollars she had remaining.

“I wasn’t rich before everything happened, but I definitely didn’t worry about food, and then,
all of a sudden I’m stretching every dollar,” Teresa said. “I would be going without myself so my
children could eat and then wondering if they’re hungry going to bed.”

The problems threatened to overwhelm Teresa – as they do a number of Lumpkin County
residents. In fact, 13.9 percent of Lumpkin’s 32,873 residents live near or below the poverty
level.

“I would have those breakdown moments,” Teresa said. “But you don’t want to do it in front of
the kids. Kids don’t need adult problems.”

Problems mounting, Teresa resolved to visit the Community Helping Place. Already familiar
with it from years prior – Teresa had actually donated baby formula to the Helping Place when
her children outgrew it – she was reminded of its presence by those at the domestic violence
shelter No One Alone.

Her determination was no painless act, however.

“It’s difficult to go from being a caregiver to the one asking for help,” said Teresa, now 48. “You
go through the embarrassment of it. But then you look in your kids’ faces and you don’t care
anymore; pride goes out the door, you become humble.”

It was a decision that allowed Teresa to slow the spin and begin to gain control.

Her first visit proved a salvation. As one of seven partners of Georgia Mountain Food Bank in
Lumpkin County, the Helping Place makes sustenance immediately available to anyone in need.
In fact, Georgia Mountain Food Bank partners distributed 815,757 pounds of food and grocery
items last year in Lumpkin County.

Teresa took home an emergency food box that day, and, perhaps more importantly,
received the kind of assurance and support that proved a psychological lifeline.

“I sat here and poured my heart out and cried, but I left feeling stronger and that everything
was going to be OK. You have that hope,” Teresa said. “When you’re alone and scared kindness
goes a long way. Without them I’d still be struggling, feeling insecure, scared and alone. I had
nobody.”

Thanks to the work of people like Paula Nick, the Community Helping Place’s director of client
services, and Debi Holloway, community navigator, Teresa began to piece her life back
together, beginning with an understanding that her children would no longer want for
nutrition.

A monthly visitor, Teresa is now able to provide her children with a healthy mix of the foods
they both need and want, including snacks for school. And they, in turn, see what their
mother’s care has brought them.

“I hid them from me coming here at first, but when I humbled myself and threw pride out the
window it was a great lesson for them,” Teresa said. “Our relationship actually grew stronger
because they saw that, ‘mommy’s doing that for us.’ Now they want to see what’s in the (food)
box (I bring home).”

The Community Helping Place, a Georgia Mountain Food Bank partner since 2009, also helped
Teresa to maintain her electrical bills and provided something extra for Christmas. A not
unfamiliar story for the Helping Place, which serves approximately 225 households per month –
which includes 570 individuals, 31 percent of whom are children and 15 percent seniors.
Feeling the strength of that support, Teresa has also begun to seek new employment
opportunities and is once again optimistic of the future, as she sets her sites on becoming
financially independent and fully overcoming recent trials.

“I didn’t expect my whole world to be turned upside down, but in ways it’s a blessing,” Teresa
said. “I remember crying and praying, ‘why Lord?’ But now I see his hands in that he led me
here, and I actually see everything I went through as a blessing.”

At some point Teresa hopes to continue that blessing by turning the tables once again and
getting involved with the Community Helping Place – this time as a volunteer. And she would
not be the first to tread that path.

“It’s not unheard of being a donor and then a recipient. We’re all familiar with that story,”
director of client services Paula Nick said. “It could be any of us. We’ve had lots of clients that
get on their feet and then come back here as volunteers.”

That she is already thinking of that eventuality shows just how far Teresa has come.

“All of my life I had been a very dependent person. My ex-husband controlled everything; I
wasn’t even registered to vote,” Teresa said. “Then I had to learn how to budget and make
things work and you find out, ‘hey, I am a pretty strong person; I can do this.’ But you need
support to help you get started.”

Georgia Mountain Food Bank (GMFB), a Partner Distribution Organization of the Atlanta
Community Food Bank (ACFB), collects surplus food and grocery products for distribution to
nonprofit partner agencies serving the hungry in the Georgia Mountain region. Located in
Gainesville, GMFB collaborates with ACFB to provide food to nonprofits with hunger relief
programs in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. These programs provide direct
assistance to families and individuals who are in need of food assistance and may range from
churches, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, rehabilitation programs, child care centers and
nursing homes.

“We are proud to partner with more than 70 agencies throughout northeast Georgia to help
people just like Teresa,” says Kay Blackstock, executive direction at GMFB.  “Hunger is not new
to our community. It has always been here, however, its face may be surprising. It can be
hardworking people who, with one unexpected turn of events, find themselves in a place they
never thought they would be in.  Yet, it is stories like Teresa and her family that keep us focused
in our fight against hunger because it truly does matter and truly does make a difference.”