“Until I started working with the [Church of the Ascension’s] food pantry maybe two years ago, I had no idea,” said Outreach Ministry Chairperson for Church of the Ascension Tiffany Tindall, referring to the need that exists in Bartow County. “With the exception of going to college, I’ve lived in Cartersville my entire life. So you don’t really know that the need is there until you become active. But there’s a significant population of this county and city that do need food assistance.
“Times are hard right now and there are a lot of people who are putting the pedal to the medal to make it work every week, but it’s just not quite enough. If we can help them feed their families then that’s one thing that we can help take off their plate and allow them to focus on other things. As far as significant needs, we see a lot of families come in with children, so they need formula or they need toddler food or things like that. We also see older couples who Social Security is not quite cutting it and we get a lot of folks in that need help from that direction as well. So [we see] a little bit of everything, really.”
To help expand its offerings, the Episcopal church’s food pantry is forming a partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Starting in October, with staples provided by the ACFB, the Church of the Ascension’s food pantry at 205 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville will be able to double its service. Along with providing proof of residency, food recipients will receive U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities once a week.
“Our food pantry at Church of the Ascension has been running for over 20 years. Recently we have made steps toward expanding services because of the need in the community. We have a lot of people in Cartersville and Bartow County who don’t have enough to eat. So it was our goal to expand the food pantry to allow us to serve more patrons,” Tindall said, adding she believes the pantry will double the amount of its recipients, from assisting more than 75 families to at least 150. “So we looked into a partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and were able to attain that, which allows us to buy food significantly cheaper.
“So we’re able to purchase more food to feed more families with our budget, and as part of the agreement with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, we are going to now be open instead of two hours a week, we’re going to be open four hours a week. So starting Tuesday, Oct. 1, we’re going to be open from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and that’s in addition to our normal 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesday. So for folks who are working who may need assistance with food ... they will now be able to come [during] the evening hours.”
In October, Church of the Ascension will become the ACFB’s 14th partner agency in Bartow. According to the food bank’s data, the other organizations include North Bartow Community Services, Advocates for Children, The Church at Liberty Square,Cornerstone Worship Center/Class Act Child Care, The Salvation Army, Faith United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville, Grace Baptist Church, Living Way Foursquare Church, New Beginnings Food Outreach, NorthPointe Church of Adairsville Inc., Oothcalooga Baptist Church and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
During the ACFB’s last fiscal year, July 2012 to June 2013, its partner agencies in Bartow distributed 1,558,056 pounds of food. This year, the organizations have dispersed 273,166 pounds of food provided by the ACFB since July 1.
With September being Hunger Action Month, the ACFB is busy engaging the public, promoting ways to assist its partner agencies and those afflicted by hunger.
“Hunger Action Month is a national effort led by the Feeding America food bank network, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), to mobilize the public in the fight against hunger throughout the month of September,” said Angie Clawson, ACFB public relations manager. “This effort not only helps bring awareness to the continued issue of hunger in all of our communities, but also provides an opportunity for the food bank and its more than 600 nonprofit partner agencies with hunger relief programs to engage the public by asking them to ‘take action’ in their own neighborhoods.
“... ACFB has a number of suggested ways people can get involved and help their neighbors. The 30 Ways in 30 Days calendar provides easy access to a variety of ideas and opportunities for anyone to take action to benefit one of the organizations located in Bartow County. Some ideas include food drives, skipping lunch for a day and donating the money you would have spent to a local hunger relief organization, plant extra vegetables in your garden and donate those to a local organization and much more.”
Along with helping food pantries stock their shelves, Clawson also wants the public to take a closer look at those who are needing assistance.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that those who are being helped by the Atlanta Community Food Bank and their local organizations, such as food pantries, are mostly working families who just can’t make ends meet,” Clawson said. “A study by Feeding America released called Map the Meal Gap showed that the food insecurity rate for Bartow County was 15 percent, meaning they don’t have access to adequate food resulting from lack of money and other resources.
“The economic recovery in Georgia has been very slow, and although people are getting back to work, they are not making the same wages as before the recession so the need for food assistance is still great. Often people have to choose between paying the rent or utilities or making the car payment and buying food for their families.”
Echoing Tindall’s statements, Lt. Michelle Wilson with The Salvation Army’s Cartersville Corps also believes many in the community are not aware of the hunger-related issues in Bartow.
“I think the greatest thing for the community to be aware is that each of us have friends and neighbors who when we sit down at our dinner table at night at home are looking into empty cupboards and wondering where their next meal is going to come from,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we miss out on that. We don’t see homeless people [as much here]. In metro Atlanta, you see much more of people in need. It’s much more [evident] to you, but whereas here in the community you may not see those pockets unless you’re in those specific spots of town where they are. But there is a great need for providing food in our community.
“When you look around at a lot of our elementary schools and they have over 70 percent of their children ... on the free and reduced lunch program, that gives you a sign of the need for food pantries and for food resources in our community. So at The Salvation Army, we provide [food assistance], along with many other food pantries in town. That is one of the things that we have a lot of here in Bartow County is food pantries, and I think that represents the great need that there is in our community for food for families.”
Located at 16 Felton Place, The Salvation Army’s pantry is open Monday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. The food is distributed once every three months per family, with recipients needing to present identification and proof of residency in Bartow County.
“Here at The Salvation Army, we provide food to a family and it’s not going to meet the entire month. It’s meant to be an emergency food box,” Wilson said. “What we try to provide in each box of food that we give here is enough food to last maybe four to six days for a family based on the size of their family and, of course, what we have available here on our shelves. We provide that in hopes that — whether it’s their paycheck was a little short this week and they need enough just to get by to the next paycheck or they’re in the process of getting on public benefits — [it will give] them enough to bridge the gap.
“... Our food pantry is open three days a week. What we’ve done is we’ve coordinated our schedule based on the other food pantries in town so that way there’s always a food pantry open Monday through Friday. ... We don’t want to duplicate efforts when others are open but we also want to be sure that there’s an opportunity every day of the week if someone finds themselves without food that there’s a place where they can go.”
Serving about 4,800 people a year with food assistance, The Salvation Army distributes between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of food every month.
“The Atlanta Community Food Bank is a great partner agency with us as far as providing food back into the community,” Wilson said. “Our greatest benefit from the relationship with the food bank is that it allow us to get the USDA commodities from the government as they act for the clearinghouse for getting these products. ... We do purchase them for so many cents on the pound from the food [bank]. Then we bring those in and those provide great staples, for example we might be able to get a bag of pasta and tomato sauce ... and we add those to our boxes.
“Then that just helps beef up what we’re able to provide to the community. [But] that doesn’t completely provide for our food pantry. We [also] rely on [our] partnership with the community,” she said, adding the food pantry in the past has been assisted by food drives organized by churches or schools, Christmas in July campaign, Thanksgiving Can-A-Thon, The Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, and donations from Publix and individuals. “... So our food pantry really is a community collaboration between donations and then what we purchase from the food bank and then also from other resources as needed based on what we’re low on in the pantry.”
For more information about Hunger Action Month and the ACFB’s agencies, visit www.acfb.org.