A meeting held the week before Thanksgiving, a national holiday synonymous with feasting, called attention to a grim statistic.
Forsyth County has, according to figures presented during the gathering on food insecurity, more than 8,000 residents living below the poverty line.
The session brought together organizers of food banks, pantries and ministries to discuss how best to help residents who don’t always know where their next meal may come from.
Caitlin Waddington, a social worker with Forsyth County Schools, noted that people often think of the county of some 175,000 people as being affluent.
“As we all know, there are pockets [of poverty], and they’re everywhere throughout the county,” Waddington said.
“I cannot tell you how much we appreciate all the different food pantries, organizations, churches and agencies that provide.”
As the economy has struggled, the need for food assistance has increased throughout the community.
And many of those seeking help may never have expected they would need to do so, said Rob Johnson of Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Of those receiving food assistance, Johnson said the average family provides nearly 60 percent on its own, 17 percent from food stamps, 7 percent from public benefits and about 5 percent from food pantries.
However, Johnson added that a little more than half of those visiting food banks are nearly two times above the poverty line income, which disqualifies them for food stamps and other public benefits.
“This is why the face of food insecurity has changed,” he said. “The people who are coming more and more to [food pantries] are people who never in their lives had to.
“They are the working poor. Their unemployment benefits might be coming or ending.”
The good news, Johnson said, is that those with money or time to give have been more understanding of the growing need, and they’re contributing.
During the community conversation, organized by the United Way of Forsyth County, about 25 local agency workers and pantry volunteers discussed how they can work together to match the changing and growing demand for services.
The group plans to assemble a community leadership team to represent collective county needs and organize resources.
Attendees also provided contact information to create a networking list for pooling resources or referring families to other agencies.
Those offering help need to communicate to be most efficient for the many families in need, said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.
“Partnering together and combining your resources is where it’s at,” she said. “This is the time where we’ve got to use every resource we have.”
The Georgia Mountain Food Bank, which launched about three years ago, works with Atlanta Community Food Bank to distribute thousands of pounds of food to those serving families in need in five regional counties, including Forsyth.
The emerging organization works with six Forsyth agencies, Blackstock said, but doesn’t yet deliver to the county.
Jim Sharp, director of Abba House, got that conversation started by recommending a facility where the Georgia Mountain group could drop off orders.
“If you could bring the food to us, we could distribute it,” Sharp said.
The time or resources needed to safely receive the severely discounted food items from large food banks are often not a reality for neighborhood pantries, which rely mostly on community donations and volunteers.
Another meeting is being planned for February to discuss the mechanics of creating a leadership team to oversee the filling of food needs in Forsyth.