This article appears in the December issue of 400 Life Magazine
Meals by Grace, a local nonprofit that provides food to families in need, has always operated by its motto, “For Community, By Community.”
With the rollercoaster of the global pandemic affecting nonprofits across the state and nation, Meals by Grace relied heavily on support from the local community.
People in Forsyth County and surrounding areas opened their hearts and offered their time to continue to help the nonprofit feed families in need, culminating in an overwhelming display of compassion, patience and community.
“We all say that we care about our community,” said Grace Suellen Daniels, executive director of Meals by Grace, “But it was really, really visible this year.”
Meals by Grace has been operating out of many different locations across Forsyth County, among them being Midway United Methodist Church.
“When the world shut down, we went underground and sat until we had worked out a plan for how we could keep serving,” Daniels said.
“We don’t want people to miss even a single day of eating.”
On March 13, 2020, Meals by Grace, along with much of the state and nation, shut down its operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniels said she didn’t know what they were going to do to continue to receive, sort and distribute food to families when social distancing procedures were put in place.
Daniels said she was afraid the church would ask them to move their operations. But leaders at Midway UMC had other plans.
Staff at the church told Daniels they would be discontinuing face-to-face services, and that Meals by Grace could have access to the whole building and campus to continue to work while socially distancing.
So volunteers were able to isolate small teams in different rooms all throughout the building.
Drivers and volunteers had to be kept separate to follow safety guidelines. Food teams were spread out inside, and delivery teams lined up in long caravans, wrapping around the church and through the parking lot.
“We had some stumbles along the way,” Daniels said. “But after just a few weeks, we’d gotten in the swing of things and were doing really well and everyone was happy. So really, the hero story of the year has to go to Midway.”
Members of Midway UMC also donated over $12,000 from two separate collections they held. Daniels said she was blown away by the members’ kindness.
“The biggest problem for us was, really, volunteers,” Daniels said. “When you go from working with a volunteer force of 300-400 people a week to only having teams of 10 or less… there was a little bit of a panic … and it was challenging.”
Though Meals by Grace had to scale back its volunteer base and adapt to the many external forces the pandemic brought, the community stepped up and helped in any way they could.
“You know, nobody knew the world was going to shut down and there would be this massive need — that nobody was going to have food and the supply chain was going to be disrupted. Nobody knew any of that,” Daniels said. “So we were having to really depend on the kindness of strangers and the community, and whatever they could find or do for us.”
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Daniels said when restaurants first closed, many donated their perishable food items.
“Poor [Kevin Gautreaux] was just driving all over the Atlanta area,” Daniels said, “Just getting calls and picking up food from places that wanted to donate.”
Meals by Grace also made use of the generosity of churches and the Forsyth County Board of Education, storing food “literally wherever we could find space.”
Small pieces of the puzzle like freezers and donations fell into place to create the larger picture of families being able to receive food this year.
When asked what her fondest memory was from this year, Daniels was hard-pressed to give a definitive answer.
“The highlight of the year for me was really just all the different ways people found to help,” Daniels said. “You can’t just isolate your favorite to one story that’s heart-touching, because this year was full of a community of little stories.”
Some of the fond memories that Daniels recalled are a young girl named Rylee Zulauf holding a dance-a-thon in her front yard, a local band called Okay Kenedi holding virtual concerts and donating its funds, a little boy collecting cereal boxes and photographers offering porch-side family portraits in order to raise money for the organization.
One particular event that brought a smile to Daniels’ face came from the Forsyth County Lions Club.
Earlier in the year, the USDA bought boxes of crops from farmers throughout the country so they didn’t lose their yields. The government then gave boxes of produce to Meals by Grace to distribute to families in need.
“We had basically from the time the truck arrived to the time the truck left to get all those boxes off and get them distributed,” Daniels said. “And I mean, there were thousands of them.”
Despite a flooding rainstorms, many charities in the area showed up to receive boxes full of produce.
“The Lions Club came with their masks and their gloves to help … and we’re loading and unloading these things in a torrential downpour,” Daniels laughed. “I mean, the words are just running off the page to where when somebody pulled up, we were like, ‘How many do you want?’ instead of ‘How many do you need?’”
It took some time to get all the boxes unloaded, but Daniels said they truly could not have done it without the help of the Lions Club and other local charities.
“Nobody ever quit — they never stopped,” Daniels said. “They never whined or complained — they just kept going.”
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Daniels expressed how thankful and blessed she has felt this year, surrounded by a supportive, loving and truly generous community.
“I know what this year reminds me
of. Have you ever seen one of those mosaics that is made up of little individual tiles, but when you get closer, you realize each tile is a different picture?” Daniels said.
“This year has been like a mosaic of individual tiles — a little girl dancing in her front yard; a young boy collecting cereal boxes. And they all
fit into this mosaic of love and beauty that made up the community this year.”
As if to further emphasize her point, Meals by Grace received a donation from the Junior ROTC program from Creekview High School in Canton during Daniels’ interview with 400 Life magazine. A young man dressed in an Army uniform dropped off a few boxes of his own volition, filled with a variety of canned goods.
“See that?” Daniels asked, smiling brightly. “That’s like our everyday here — people just dropping off food out of the blue. And we love it. We love the community, and we feel so blessed this year that everyone has helped us.”
For more information, visit mealsbygrace.org.