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How Georgia Mountain Food Bank will use $2.8 million in federal grant funding
Georgia Mountain Food Bank
Georgia Mountain Food Bank will receive a grant from the American Rescue Plan Act of $2.8 million. They are planning to expand their facility over the next couple years to store more food. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Georgia Mountain Food Bank hopes to increase food distribution by 15% by the end of 2024, in part thanks to $2.8 million in federal grant money.

Donations have decreased substantially during the pandemic, said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the food bank, which serves Dawson, Forsyth, Union, Lumpkin and Hall counties. 

Federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, designed to help with increased costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, will help the food bank buy more food.

“If you came and looked at the warehouse right now, you’d be stunned, because it’s empty,” Blackstock said.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced $415 million Monday, May 16, for “negative economic impacts of COVID-19” to be distributed to organizations around the state. Georgia Mountain Food Bank was the only local beneficiary and several other area nonprofits and local governments who applied lost out on the competitive pool of funds, including the city of Gainesville, which had hoped to receive $10 million to help with affordable housing projects.

More than 700 organizations and local governments applied for about $6.6 billion last fall, and only 33 were awarded funds. 

The Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association Inc., was given $150 million, which was by far the largest award, to provide relief to hoteliers around the state. 

The money won’t all come at once. The food bank and other organizations still must pass a 6-8 week review process, and the money will be used to reimburse expenses from 2022-24. 

“Our (food) donations are so pitiful right now, that we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to meet the needs before us, so this will go a long, long way for that,” Blackstock said. “It’s expensive to buy food and give it away.”

Most of the food bank’s donations come from retailers, she said, and their supplies have been affected by inflation, supply chain issues and an ongoing labor shortage.

The food bank cannot use the new funds for its expansion, for which it received a different $2.2 million grant late last year. The food bank will add about 10,000 square feet over two stories with more refrigerated storage and office space to its facility at 1642 Calvary Industrial Drive. 

The total project cost is about $3 million, with the food bank fundraising the difference. 

Grant funds for that project must be spent by the end of 2023, and though construction has not started, Blackstock said they are still on track to finish by then.

This article was originally posted by the Gainesville Times, a sister publication to Forsyth County News.