By Lauren Hunter Multimedia Journalist with AccessWDUN

For more than a dozen years, and even in the middle of a pandemic, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank has helped prevent North Georgia families from going hungry.

“There is no reason for anyone to be hungry in this community,” said Kay Blackstock, Executive Director of GMFB. “We’ve never once closed our doors[during COVID-19]…we’ve been able to keep those frontline food pantries and people out serving the needy supplied with what they need.”

The food bank partners with over 70 agencies in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union Counties to distribute food to needy families. Some of these partner agencies include food pantries, soup kitchens and churches.

Blackstock said that these agencies serve food to around 30,000 people each month. In 2019 alone, GMFB distributed more than 5.5 million pounds of food and grocery products through partner agencies and programs.

The food bank collects donations of perishable and non-perishable food items from donors including the Atlanta Community Food Bank and grocery store chains. These donations are collected each day by one of the food bank’s trucks and brought to GMFB headquarters in Gainesville for sorting and repackaging.

“The biggest part of [the food donation] comes from the retail donors…we have 32 stores that we pick up from, some stores even three times a week,” said Blackstock. “With the pandemic, we’ve had to purchase food and then we get food through food drives.”

Food brought to the GMFB facility is taken to the Volunteer Action Center, where a group of volunteers will sort the food and package it for storage. The food is stored in either the Agency Distribution Center for non-perishable food or the Cold Storage and Drive-In Freezer for perishable food.

Representatives from partner agencies can then “shop” for available food at GMFB either through the electronic database from Atlanta Community Food Bank or by visiting the distribution center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly altered normal operations at GMFB, although staff have found ways to get food to families through their programs.

One of these programs is the Neighborhood Fresh program, which takes food directly to families at Neighborhood Fresh locations. Blackstock said this program was born out of a mapping project that identified areas without a GMFB partner agency.

Blackstock said that to comply with social distancing standards during the COVID-19 pandemic, GMFB staff have modified the Neighborhood Fresh program to reach families through the USDA Farm to Families program.

“We’ve used that and modified Neighborhood Fresh to work through the schools,” said Blackstock. “Primarily the schools have been our distribution outlet and the Gainesville Housing Authority since COVID hit.”

GMFB staff also plan to continue the annual Empty Bowl Luncheon, which will take place in a virtual format on September 22. This event takes place every September in recognition of Hunger Action Month.

Tickets for the event include a lunch and a hand-painted bowl to remind purchasers of GMFB’s goal to eliminate hunger in the community.

“I think it feels good for the community to have some continuity and what they’re used to,” said Blackstock on hosting the Empty Bowl Luncheon this year. “I think it gives the community the opportunity to breathe and realize that there is something that is continuing on despite COVID.”

While GMFB is limited in the number of volunteers that it can currently accept, Blackstock said that one of the greatest ways the community can get involved is to spread the word about the food bank.

“I think people outside of Hall County may not fully understand what the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s role is…learn more about the food bank and then stay tuned for when the time will come that we can start having more people come in,” said Blackstock.

More information about the Georgia Mountain Food Bank is available on their website.

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