Faces of Hunger: Teresa Strickland

Teresa Strickland sat outside Blairsville’s Healing Hands Clinic giving herself a pep talk.

It went against just about every fiber of her being for Teresa to ask for help.

Yet Teresa also knew that, without aid, she might be physically unable to seek assistance much
longer. Already psychologically exhausted from the twists and turns her life had taken over
recent months, Teresa also felt her body giving out. And she was on the verge of giving up.

“I was homeless, living in a tent in Hiawassee, and I was having severe health problems; I just
felt awful, and I was completely out of it,” Teresa said. “I was sick and didn’t know why. God
must have told me to come in because I’m usually not like that.”

After what seemed like hours, Teresa overcame her pride and fears and walked into the Healing
Hands Clinic – and into a new and optimistic chapter of her life.

“I figured they would just make me fill out a bunch of paperwork and send me away,” Teresa

On the contrary, Healing Hands Clinic director Jeri Ann King welcomed Teresa with open arms.
And while Teresa did fill out a questionnaire, the staff at Healing Hands then set her on course
for recovery from the litany of ailments threatening to overwhelm her. On that day Teresa
received a full blood panel workup, which revealed Teresa – as well as being hungry from
months of living hand to mouth – was in dire trouble from type 2 diabetes.

“My first blood sugar test was so high the meter couldn’t even read it,” Teresa said. “Jeri shot
me with insulin, and I immediately felt better.”

It was only the first step to recovery, however. And Teresa received a great many lessons both
that day and over the coming weeks, as Jerri and her trained staff tended to Teresa’s needs.
Located in a county which features 15.4 percent of its population at or below the poverty level,
members of Healing Hands have seen the face of need in Union County and are always ready to
help overcome it. And as one of 70 partner organizations for Georgia Mountain Food Bank,
Healing Hands always has life-sustaining nutrition at the ready.

Healing Hands ensured that Teresa left their premises that fateful day in possession of an
emergency food box as provided by Georgia Mountain Food Bank. But Jerri and her staff also
made it clear that Teresa needed to make changes to her diet, and that, thanks to prescriptive
food boxes from Georgia Mountain Food Bank, they could help her through the process.

Designed for people facing health issues, prescriptive food boxes provide two weeks-worth of
both heart-healthy and low-sugar alternatives.

“The people in here were all smiling and in a good mood. It was so welcoming, and it kind of took me a minute to get used to it. But Jerri also flat told me that, ‘you’re going to die if you don’t make changes,’ ” Teresa said.

Beyond finding the right food choices, Teresa also faced storage and security problems.
Following a family dispute, the Florida native, whose health issues prevented her from holding
down a regular job, moved out of her brother’s house in Blairsville and took up a nomadic
existence, occasionally living in motels or on friends’ couches, but spending most of her time
camping out. She had followed her brother north from Florida in search of a job and was now
searching for some sense of normalcy.

“When you’re living in a tent like I was you can’t keep things cold very easily, and then if you
leave anything out your neighbors are likely to steal it in the sites I was in,” said Teresa. “It was
a very tough situation. But everyone at Healing Hands helped me figure out ways to work
through the problems.”

Teresa also encountered another providential moment when she was able to obtain an RV from
her brother, as it had to be evacuated from Florida following a hurricane. Thanks to help from
members of the non-profit community in Blairsville, Teresa now has a stable home in the RV –
complete with healthier options for both food storage and cooking.

And with the knowledge gained from the staff at Healing Hands and the prescriptive food boxes
supplied by Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Teresa has taken control of her health and her life.

“We’ve never had such a compliant patient, and it was because she wanted to live,” Jeri Ann
King said. “There are so many little tricks we teach our diabetic clients about how to keep their
blood sugar down – like rinsing off canned vegetables to get rid of excess salt – and Teresa has
stuck to those and done an amazing job. Diabetics have to be choosier, and it’s also about
serving size.”

Faithfully following those techniques, Teresa eats off smaller plates, while also using a crock-
pot or grill to avoid the excess fat produced by frying.

And now, just two years after sitting in a car and wrestling the idea of asking for help, Teresa is
a changed woman. In fact, she keeps her blood sugar so well in check that she no longer needs
insulin and has lost several pounds.

“She was so sick that night she walked in, and now she’s doing incredible,” Jerri said. “So much
of it is down to her though. She’s made the right choices, and she’s stuck by them.”

That said, Teresa knows those choices needed a jumpstart.

“I’m kicking tail,” Teresa chuckled. “But when you’re in a situation like I was in you have to have
people backing you. Without these folks I don’t know what I would have done.”

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.

Healing Hands is one of five GMFB partners in Union County that distributed 236,187 pounds of
food and grocery products to needy clients in 2018.

“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. Yet, it is stories
like Teresa’s that keep us focused in our fight against hunger because it truly does matter and
truly does make a difference.”