By LYDIA BERGLAR
In addition to the Tri-State Food Pantry (also covered in this issue), other options are available for people who need assistance. While the food pantry is government funded and therefore has restrictions based on income and residency, there are organizations, volunteers, and local churches that all work to help those in need.
The good news is that many people in our community want to help, and there are numerous resources available. The difficulty lies in the vast number of organizations and the amount of information available. Several initiatives seek to address this issue by gathering scattered information together.
Dade First Family Connection connects people who have needs to organizations and churches that can meet that need. Family Connection is a state initiative, and our local branch is called Dade First Family Connection.
Their website is dade.gafcp.org, and at the top of the main page, click “Resources” to access a comprehensive and continually-updated database of resources, businesses, helplines, and information.
Martha Baker, executive director of Dade First Family Connection, says, “There are so many opportunities and so many people who want to help.”
One Family Connection project is running “Care Closets.” By partnering with the local schools, they keep these closets stocked with items that children may need, with a focus on clothes. According to Baker, “These closets are filled with items (including toiletries) for emergency needs whether it be a house fire, an accident at school, children that have moved into our community without appropriate clothing, etc.”
Each month, Family Connection and the schools ask for specific items. For example, they collected hoodies and sweatshirts in November.
Family Connection also works with the HUB, a group of more than 20 local churches that work together to meet needs. Whether people reach out to a HUB church or to Family Connection, the churches and organization can work together to meet the need.
By coordinating and communicating, Family Connection and HUB churches are not only able to better address the need, but they can also make sure that people are not inappropriately taking advantage of charity. With a bit of coordination, they are less likely to only treat the symptoms of a deep-rooted issue or addiction while the true problem goes unresolved.
Jan Smith oversees Trenton United Methodist Church’s (TUMC) emergency food pantry and works with anyone who brings a need to the church. As one of the HUB churches, Smith says, “We check with all the other churches to see if they’re doing anything for these folks so we’re not being redundant. If there’s a large, important need, we’ll call or Martha will call to see if other churches can also help.”
Smith noted that she also works with Rex Mayo (of A Hand UP Ministry) and John Huffman (who runs the Your Dade Helper Facebook page.) She says, “We don’t have a United Way here, so we all talk and work together.”
When TUMC started a community garden, Smith says they identified who truly wanted fresh produce so that it doesn’t go to waste. She noted that sometimes people don’t have access to electricity or a well-equipped kitchen, so in those cases, pre-prepared food is best.
They also run a backpack lunch program. “Our ladies’ group noticed that kids were going to school hungry and couldn’t focus.” Smith recalls. “We pack enough food for two days, things like milk, juice, granola bars, and macaroni that can go in the microwave.” She explained that children in these situations may not be able to cook and may not have adults who can help prepare food, but they can most likely use a microwave for easy meals.
TUMC keeps items like toiletries, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and diapers in the pantry. “When we shop for our food pantry, we’re intentional. 80-90% of the people who come are already on food stamps, but they cannot buy toiletries.”
Smith and the church as a whole seeks to show love to the community through the food pantry. “We know how hard it is for some people to ask for help. It can be demeaning or non-dignifying, so we want people to know that they’re honored guests and they have dignity.” Smith says she lets people choose items for themselves. “I don’t want to give something they’re not going to eat or be able to cook.”
Similarly to Family Connection and the HUB churches, Rex Mayo of A Hand UP Ministry and Hope House Cafe started the 24/7 Hope Line to connect people with needs to resources that can meet the need. Anyone can call the number and he will work to connect you with the appropriate resource.
The number is (888) 912-6487, and if you leave a message, someone will be sure to return your call.
Dade County also hosts a page on their website that lists many resources (including Family Connection and Hope Line information). Visit dadecounty-ga.gov and click on “Dade County at a Glance.” Scroll down to see Blessing Box Locations, Free Food Distribution, and Free Food Distributions (through the Tri-State Food Pantry).
Beneath those schedules, information for the Dade County Clothes Closet at New Salem United Methodist Church is listed.
Carey Fauscett-Anderson, the county’s clerk and public information officer, offered insight into each of these resources. “If somebody is hungry in this community, we have volunteer organizations that will help you find food.”
Regarding free food, Anderson said, “The Blessing Boxes are totally citizen run.” Citizens make donations, and anyone can take food as needed from the boxes. The wooden structures are located throughout the county and house non-perishable items. Sometimes, people will drop off diapers and other items.
Anderson noted that donations are not always within the best buy date. She encourages citizens who drop off goods to check the date and for those taking donations to be aware of dates on items.
In addition to information about the Tri-State Food Pantry, the county page also lists free food distribution that is not income or residency based. The four locations are North Georgia Worship Center, Piney Grove Baptist Church, Trenton Ministry Center, and Trenton United Methodist Church. The first three distribute food once a month, and the fourth is a call as needed option.
Finally, anyone interested in serving the local community can view the “Volunteer Opportunities” and contact information listed further down on the county’s page.