By the Grace of God, We Just Did It

Facing Homelessness from Brenau University (Gainesville, Georgia)

Kay Blackstock

Raising three children as a single mother, nobody knew my struggle. My kids never went without food, but there certainly were times when I went to the grocery store and returned home, I would discover that my water had been turned off. I needed to ask for help and borrow money in order to buy food. I know what those choices feel like, and I was fortunate to have help, but not everybody does. Through my own experiences and struggles, I was inspired to start Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

As a Hall County native, it’s easy for me to say that we founded this non-profit organization in the worst economy of my lifetime. Before I became Executive Director at GMFB, I knew that there was food out there that could be captured and donated, instead of being thrown away.

GMFB is a redistribution organization that aims to directly serve individuals through community partnerships. We serve through 64 agencies in the five surrounding county areas of Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union. Through our own cost, we host two community mobile pantries every month and use our own programs to help support local school pantries, such as the one at the University of North Georgia. It’s not always the obvious people who are hungry, and it’s often hard to make the point that there isn’t a stereotype to food insecurity.

I became consciously aware of food insecurity in 1999. I was facing my own struggle of supporting my family, but I put the thought to the side to focus on my full time job at the North Georgia Community Foundation. It wasn’t until 2006 when I started actively researching food insecurity, that I realized how many people were food insecure. “1 in 5 Georgians is hungry – help us make it one less,” is our trademark slogan that we work to support at GMFB.

After three-and-a-half years of squatting at a logistics and transportation company, we were finally able to build our current facility and migrate from the Hollis Transportation warehouse. Due to the recent recession, there were many buildings available for us, but it was hard to find one that would be best suited for a food bank. While we were using the Hollis Transportation warehouse to store our food from our affiliate agency, Atlanta Community Food Bank, it gave us an opportunity to figure out our staff, our truck drivers and plan for our new facility.

We started taking distributions from Atlanta once a month, but this gradually increased to two distributions per month. When we had a backlog of food building up in a location that was too small for us, the demand for our new facility was more prominent than ever. Essentially, we were incubating a non-profit inside of another business for no charge, thanks to my good friend Brian Hollis.

After Hollis started to expand, Jason Bowen built an addition onto Hollis Transport for Wrigley’s products. Bowen eventually built the warehouse for GMFB for a fraction of the original price, due to his connection with Jim Walters. Walters allowed us to buy out his plot of land for only $50,000. After taking a full year to make sure that we had all of the policies and procedures taken care of, we were able to build and organize our non-profit. We took the time to do it, and we did it right, which I’m glad we did.

When we started building our new warehouse, we stopped midway through because we decided to build an upstairs and transform the warehouse into a two-story building. I made everyone a shovel for this ground-breaking event and some founding principle offices still have shovels hanging today, in remembrance of the hard work each individual put in. It’s fun to develop relationships. If I didn’t love talking and interacting as much as I do, we wouldn’t have any building plans, any land, any warehouse, and any donors. It’s great to see that there are many people with different ideas and walks of life, but we are all united in taking on the challenge of fighting hunger.

We put down the first concrete slab to our very own building on Thanksgiving Eve of 2011. Although it wasn’t planned, it was ironic that it happened that night, knowing that there would be thousands without food the next day. Our opening day was April 17, 2012, and Governor and Mrs. Deal came to show their support.

People constantly confuse us with food pantries, because food pantries are one of the groups that we supply food to. People get confused because food pantries call themselves food banks. They hear GMFB and assume we are the same as places such as the Community Food Bank or Good Samaritan Food Bank, which we are not. Our marketing materials may be part of the problem, but there are marketing materials that have proven successful for food banks; they certainly have been, thank you Lord, successful for us. Our database has been extended from 200 people to over 7,000 people due to our marketing materials, which have helped GMFB cultivate donor relationships that make it possible to work with a $1.2 million dollar budget.

GMFB hosts an annual event every fall called the Empty Bowl Luncheon, and 2016 marks its eighth year. Through hard work and planning, we aim to bring people together in the local community to help support people less privileged than ourselves. Despite this event being one of our biggest fundraisers of the year, it’s never about the money; it’s about community interaction.

Our main push for the upcoming months is to encourage people in the community to help us with our mobile food drives. The more food that we can obtain through distributions to the food bank, the more meals we are able to give to those in need. I want to encourage groups, organizations and people that want to come to serve, to go out and see what food they can collect, before we go and deliver it through door-to-door distributions and mobile pantries. Seeing where we are now, I am definitely more spiritual than I was before. By the grace of God, I am one proud Executive Director of Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

Told by: Jasmine Brewster

This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Hall County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia.


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