In the middle of March, operations at Georgia Mountain Food Bank transitioned from routine to unpredictable almost overnight.
“Things were developing daily, even hourly, with food donations in sharp decline, school meals being missed, and service workers losing their income,” recalls Executive Director Kay Blackstock. “A decrease in food availability created uncertainty for all.”
Blackstock was determined the nonprofit food distributor would continue to supply its partner agencies on the front lines of food donations. Those partners include small food pantries that provide groceries to their neighbors in need. The food bank supplies five counties, including Hall and Lumpkin where 49 of their 71 partner agencies are located.
“We typically supply the majority of food and grocery products that these smaller agencies distribute,” says Blackstock, noting that, in normal times, almost 65% of the food bank’s inventory comes from retail donations. “When the pandemic began to put a stranglehold on the country and people rushed to grocery stores and emptied the shelves, you can imagine what that did to our donations. We saw decreases of up to 50%. The stores just couldn’t replace products on their shelves fast enough. The supply chain was frozen.”
Blackstock felt that, as the region’s go-to for emergency food, Georgia Mountain Food Bank was responsible for acquiring enough food to stock the frontline food pantries.
“There was no playbook for this, but we knew we could not let hunger exacerbate the pandemic,” she says. “We had to provide our service as quickly as possible.”
By June, with cash donations from the Jackson EMC Foundation and other charitable organizations, Georgia Mountain Food Bank had purchased $70,000 worth of food for its COVID-19 response. The director estimates her agency’s total expense in responding to the crisis could reach $500,000 by year’s end.
“There’s still a lot of need out there,” she says. “When we look at the counties we serve, we have double-digit unemployment with numbers five times higher than they were last year. We’re helping the newly unemployed who have never been in this position, plus we’re taking care of those already struggling.”
Hearing from Jackson EMC’s Foundation coordinator Lori Worley was a blessing out of the blue, according to Blackstock: “She said that since we’d been a grant-funded charity in the past, they were offering us emergency funding. We were thrilled by that. Jackson EMC’s Operation Round Up has been our supporter in multiple ways. We appreciate the fact that the Jackson EMC Foundation supports many of our partners and peer food banks as well.”
Elisa, a client who received groceries during a Georgia Mountain Food Bank summer distribution, expresses gratitude. “It goes to show there are still people who care,” she concludes.