Forsyth County is often ranked as the most affluent county in Georgia and is commonly at the top of lists for health, schools and all sorts of positive accolades.
But despite the success, food insecurity and hunger impact thousands of local residents, and when an unexpected hardship happens, many may not know where to go.
Luckily, Forsyth County is home to several food banks, churches and non-profits hoping to give those on hard times a helping hand.
“People need to understand the difference between hunger and food insecurity,” said Suellen Daniels, with Fill Ministries and Meals by Grace. “Hunger is right now and it can be resolved. You can throw some resources at it, and you can solve it, but food insecurity has tentacles that go into every part of a child’s life and into a family’s life and it doesn’t ever really, truly go away.”
Fill Ministries offers a variety of services for those in need of food and other resources, including food services from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays at Midway United Methodist Church, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at their office at 432 A Canton Road and service in Dawsonville at Harmony Baptist Church from 2-4 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, in addition to home-delivered meals, operating an aquaponics farm to grow vegetables and other services.
Daniels said food insecurity often leaches into other parts of people’s lives, so Fill Ministries is cognizant of the fact that many who rely on them for food also have issues getting to it.
“We home deliver to a lot of families that either don’t have regular, reliable transportation or they can’t access a food source because of the timing, because pantries are open random days, random hours, so being able to match up your schedule and your transportation ability with one of those is very challenging,” Daniels said.
She said Fill Ministries also delivers meals to 70 families selected through the Forsyth County Schools system and made up of students and their parents and another 120 are on a waiting list.
Daniels said many clients are on food assistance through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which can be applied for at Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) offices, and those services are tougher to get than some may think.
“If you’re on food stamps, for example, people need to understand the criteria,” she said. “It takes several weeks. First off, you have to be in a place where your name is either on the mortgage or the lease agreement.
“If you’re sharing space with someone or living with someone or staying in an extended-stay hotel, you cannot get food stamps. You don’t even qualify. They’re really hard to get. It takes a long time to get them. If you do not have transportation to go for your regular check-in appointment, you can lose them really easy. And once you’ve lost them, you have to start over.”
In addition to a food pantry serving more than 1,200 households this year and a mobile food program currently serving three locations with a fourth planned, The Place of Forsyth County offers services including housing assistance, utility assistance, home food deliveries for 25 seniors, workforce development, utility assistance and other services.
Jodi Smith, executive director of The Place, said some clients are totally dependent on food, while for others, the service is a supplement that allows them to pay for other needs.
“When someone comes in and they’re struggling to pay their rent or their utilities are behind and we can see they’re working and they’re really trying, we’ll qualify them to get food from the food pantry every week … it will depend on their situation,” she said. “They can be qualified for three, six or 12 months.”
Smith said 450 new families have started receiving food this year and more than $1.2 million worth of food was given to county residents in 2018.
“That is indicative of, we think the economy is getting better, but when you’re making minimum wage or slightly above but rent [prices] are skyrocketing and other expenses are skyrocketing, you’ve got to go for help somewhere, and a lot of people come for food,” Smith said. “That’s an easy one to get, we’re client-choice, so they get to pick what they want and they can supplement their household that way.”
For those using SNAP or WIC, Smith recommended first coming to the food pantry before using their benefits for other items the pantry may not have.
Both Fill Ministries and The Place are client-choice, meaning they won’t simply be given the same, standard box of food as everyone else.
At Meals by Grace, they are given an allotment of points aimed to promote healthy eating.
“Families get a base number of points based on the size of their family, so, I don’t remember exactly what that is, but let’s say there’s four people in your family and you get 50 points, so what we’ve done is we’ve made fresh things and healthy things — very low points or no points — then bad things like cookies, doughnuts, all those nasty things that grocery stores give away, that we all love but that aren’t good for us, we make those high in points,” Daniels said.
Non-profits aren’t the only ones doing something to end hunger in the county.
Cumming First United Methodist Church serves between 400 and 500 families a month between a food pantry and bags filled with food as part of Forsyth County Schools’ Backpacks of Love drives. The church also delivers to 35 homebound individuals and a local mobile home park once a month.
Barbara Ledbetter, coordinator of the food pantry, said providing healthy food is a focus.
“We provide a full bag of food,” Ledbetter said. “There will be some kind of fruit, there’s plenty of bread and sweets and then there’s meat and dairy in addition to that, but we also have a couple of local farmers — Cane Creek farm is one of them — and they give us fresh veggies in the offseason. We’re grateful for that because this is a way to get fresh food at little or no cost to us.”
Unlike other services, there is no financial threshold that needs to be met for those in need.
“You don’t have to meet any financial requirements with us,” Ledbetter said. “For us, you come in and bring your ID and you have to fill out paperwork with us just so we make sure we’re keeping a good record because we get food both from Atlanta Community Food Bank and Georgia Mountain Food Bank, and they like to see a record. They also use if for statistics. It’s not really about who you are that’s getting it, it’s about statistics.”
Daniels said her organization is heading to a time of year where food pantry supplies start to run low but said it wasn’t due to a lack of food and would likely pick up again around the holidays.
“Most of what the food bank has is from individual companies that do food drives with their employees,” Daniels said. “The interesting thing is when do companies not do food drives? During the summer because their employees are on vacation, kids are out of school, they never do a food drive during the summer because they would have such a poor return.”
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