How to help
* Visit www.feedforsyth.org for a full list of participating businesses and other ways to help.
Local food pantries have been handing out what they have as fast as it comes in.
That’s why Allen Madding, director of Feed the Hungry Forsyth, is thankful so many businesses have stepped up to take part in the holiday canned good drive.
The nonprofit, which formed about two years ago, supports local agencies that help the hungry.
Feed Forsyth volunteers pick up surplus food from local restaurants and deliver those to pantries year round.
The organization also coordinates food drives with businesses, with the largest community effort so far being the current holiday canned good drive.
“Our thought was if we ramped up real hard, [pantries] would be able to have food on hand,” Madding said. “So in January, when everybody runs out, we’ll have a stockpile to go to, if you will.
“But we have seen this month food pantries that we have never seen in a real need situation with empty shelves.”
Madding said the cuts in the food stamp program, which took effect Nov. 1, appear to have increased demand at local pantries.
He’s hoping the holiday drive will bring in between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of food by the end of December. In November, local business donations accounted for about 2,000 pounds, as did a charity run on Thanksgiving.
Nearly three dozen Forsyth County businesses have signed up to place the blue donation barrels in their stores.
“It’s very encouraging to see the number of businesses on board this year,” Madding said. “The community support is really building a groundswell.”
He attributed that to having time to get the word out about Feed the Hungry Forsyth and growing the organization’s relationships with local merchants.
Two of the restaurants that provide fresh surplus food, Lenny’s Subs and Good Grub Subs, are also participating in the canned good drive.
The majority of the businesses collecting for the drive, however, aren’t food related.
Lance White, owner of Lance’s Jewelry, joked that people figured he must be looking for dog-food donations, since he’s also president of the Humane Society of Forsyth County.
“I’m helping people instead of just animals now,” White said with a laugh.
The county has been great to his business, he said, and so he tries to give back “as much as [he] can.”
Though White is best known for his work with animals, he got involved with Feed Forsyth several months ago as a volunteer and saw the nonprofit as a great way to assist.
Customers in his store have told him they’re happy he’s expanding his charitable efforts, he said. But many have also questioned the need in Forsyth, which has been ranked the wealthiest county in the state.
“We don’t realize that there are people going hungry in our own county,” White said. “It is there. Let’s embrace it and take care of it.”
Madding said Feeding America in 2011 determined 16,000 people in the county were “food insecure,” plus about 10,000 children.
In addition, Forsyth County tripled its number of food stamp cases between June 2007 and June 2012, tying it with neighboring Cherokee for the largest percent increase of counties in Georgia, according to data from the Emory Center for Community Partnerships.
The help exists locally, Madding said, with 28 organizations providing food to community families in need.
However, each would have to feed 500 people to fully meet the demands, which he said “isn’t mathematically possible.”
“We’re trying to ramp up how much food is available to each one of those pantries so they can maximize what they’re doing and then trying to encourage other organizations to start pantries,” he said. “We wanted to step in and support the organizations that have been working in food ministry for a long time.”
The holiday food drive aims to increase that supply at a time when people seem most eager to give.
Businesses also want to participate in that giving spirit, seeing the holiday food drive as a good time to use their presence to support a need in the community.
Todd Levent, owner of Midway Warehouse, set up a collection barrel next to a Christmas tree in the store.
“There are always people less fortunate and they need a little bit of assistance,” Levent said. “Everybody should always pull together to help their own in their own community.”
He liked that the donations stay within local organizations, something White emphasized about Feed Forsyth as he spread the word through his business connections, including Midway Warehouse, Lakeside Pharmacy and local car dealerships such as Andean Chevrolet and Billy Howell Ford.
Small, local businesses have the ability to step up in times of need more quickly than a national company with a large chain of command, White said.
“With this growth [in the county] becomes a responsibility for the community to give back,” he said. “I think people are going to come back down to the grassroots and go back and help their neighbors instead of trying to help the whole world.”