Georgia Mountain Food Bank is teaming up with an area foundation with the goal of providing support for both food-insecure families and restaurants in the Gainesville area.

Thanks to an initiative from the Ralph and Mary Cleveland Foundation, Georgia Mountain Food Bank (GMFB) has introduced a “dine card” program, which allows families to receive a meal voucher card to be used at a participating restaurant located in Gainesville – a combination that will, ultimately, benefit both parties involved in the transaction.

The dine card program, which began in April, provides its user with five meals at up to a $20 value per meal to be redeemed at one of these establishments:

  • The Coffee Shop
  • The Inked Pig
  • Hop’s Kitchen
  • The Collegiate Grill
  • Sweet Magnolia’s

Dine cards may be obtained by registering with participating Hall County GMFB partner agencies. Families then receive the cards at one of these local food pantries:

  • The Community Food Pantry
  • Good Samaritan Food Bank
  • Sunshine Seniors
  • John Paul II
  • Iglesia Nueva Vida

The early stages of the program have seen a high level of participation so far, with 172 cards distributed during the month of April.

“We felt like this was an extraordinary opportunity to provide meaningful assistance to families facing food insecurity while also supporting locally-owned restaurants, both of whom have been severely tested by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said GMFB Executive Director Kay Blackstock. “Families in need get a chance to eat a wonderful meal that they might not otherwise have access to, while local restaurants receive increased business and financial enhancement.”

For their part, the participating restaurants saw an opportunity to provide meaningful assistance to those in need.

“The restaurants participating in this program show a tremendous heart for our community, as well as a way to have consistent income through pre-paid meals,” said Main Street manager Nicole Ricketts. “Sometimes it’s pretty difficult to look beyond yourself, but these establishments have chosen to do so. Gainesville has been pretty fortunate during the pandemic to have not seen many restaurant closures, but that does not mean it’s been easy, and this is a great way to knit the community together and support each other.”

While the 2020-21 pandemic has hit the food service industry hard, as many restaurants were forced to either close for long periods or rely solely on takeaway products, it has also strained a populace already facing hunger issues. In fact, feeding America estimated that more than 54 million people across our nation experienced food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 18 million children. And Georgia is by no means immune to those realities, where – even prior to COVID-19 – 1,318,500 people, including 405,308 children, struggled with hunger daily during 2019.

It was the stark reality of that knowledge, combined with the perils of the pandemic, that drove the Ralph and Mary Cleveland Foundation to seek a route that could benefit multiple citizens and businesses in need within the Gainesville community, while helping to provide a bridge to more prosperous times.

“This foundation is dedicated to making a difference in this region, and we saw this as a great opportunity to do so,” said Ralph and Mary Cleveland Foundation director John Cleveland. “I got the idea from World Central Kitchen that one gift could benefit both restaurants struggling with covid impacts and families dealing with impacts from the same cause and thought we could incorporate parts of that idea to help benefit local businesses and families. We are so grateful to have the Georgia Mountain Food Bank to help make this goal a reality, and we truly hope it can provide meaningful assistance to many in Gainesville.

“The downtown environment in Gainesville has become so vibrant through recent years, and we know the pandemic has had a big impact on the restaurants that helped bring that atmosphere, as well as countless families in our region. And we wanted to help make sure the positive momentum we’ve seen in Gainesville was not halted by the pandemic.”

Georgia Mountain Food Bank will cover the costs of dine card meals with a grant from the foundation. Yet the program is just a small part of its undertaking in aiding the food insecure in north Georgia. Covering a five-county area, which includes Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union, GMFB provided 52 million pounds of food to those in need during 2020 – which includes 2,539,534 meals donated by GMFB’s retail partners.

Those interested in donating toward the dine card program are encouraged to contact GMFB directly.

“We are positively thrilled to be a part of this partnership and laud the Ralph and Mary Cleveland Foundation for their determination and creativity in helping to develop this unique approach to supporting the local community,” said Blackstock. “This is a huge undertaking, and while we continue to do great things throughout north Georgia, we always interested in undertaking new and different ways to help those in need in our wide-ranging district.”

If you live in or around Gainesville/Hall County and find yourself in a food insecure situation, please reach out to the Compass Center about gaining assistance from Georgia Mountain Food Bank. You may contact the Compass Center at (770) 536-1121. You may also visit the USDA’s website for information on food program assistance.