While there are individuals like Tate who take a hands-on approach, a large percentage of the food assistance comes through the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which then distributes it to more than 700 nonprofit partners—food pantries, community kitchens, child care, senior centers, and shelters. The food bank buys food (about $20 million last year) and also receives donations from businesses, food distributors, manufacturers and grocery retailers.
The bank’s food distribution grew 60% at the height of the pandemic, from 78 million to 116 million pounds of food, according to Kyle Wade, president and CEO. In addition, the number of food insecure people grew by up to 40 percent, with many of these people experiencing not having enough food for the first time in their lives.
“During the height of the pandemic, we were distributing about 10 million pounds of food per month; 15-20 million dollars in food. It’s a lot and I don’t think people fully appreciate how much food we’re distributing.”
Wade says he was “really inspired by how a lot of people have sought to get involved in helping neighbors through this pandemic. There are a lot of creative ideas and this is great,” he says. But, at the same time, “we are a well-established emergency food network that coordinates with 700 organizations. People who are thinking about going to the grocery store and trying to donate food somewhere should remember that we can provide four meals for every dollar you donate to us. We can provide more food to people more efficiently [than others]. “
Kim Phillips, CEO of North Gwinnett Co-Op, has seen a small decrease in food insecurity since the childcare tax credits pushed it, but says the problem remains serious. “Last year we distributed 545,000 pounds of food but we are also seeing an increase in people getting sick and this affecting home deliveries. We will be starting a mobile pantry next month. It is important to remember that food stamps will not pay for toilet paper or laundry detergent. People are asking for these items as much as they ask for food.”
The collaboration works with 25 churches and companies in specific Gwinnett County ZIP Codes. With the holidays coming, food banks are receiving generous donations but people are still hungry in June and July. Summer is always a challenge, especially since many kids can’t get meals at school.”
Other food distributors have a slightly different model but are equally committed to ending food insecurity. Second Helpings, for example, diverts more than 80,000 pounds of surplus fresh food that would go to the landfill each week, and also serves thousands of ready meals per week through its new Fun Plate project.
Second Helpings saved 1.9 million pounds of food in 2020; In 2021 (so far) it reached 2.7 million. “From our perspective, we’re just as busy if not busier,” he says. “There are a lot of people in need and our partner agencies are constantly asking for more food,” says Andrea Garrone, CEO. “Hunger is a problem in this country. The government is pumping a lot of money to support families. Statistically, black and Hispanic families are still greatly affected by food security and smarter people are getting deeper into this situation.”
Second Helpings deals with foods whose sell-by or expiration dates are still valid; Freefoodcommune has no such issues. “We don’t have standards. Bring us your stale bread. Unless it’s crawling with maggots, we’ll use it. If it does, we’ll give it to the farmers in our nets for their chickens or to compost it,” says AKA Pam the Freegan, who founded Freefoodcommune. Almost eight years ago.
The Commune started out of a general disgust with food waste. We have four times the amount of food we need. It goes into people’s fat bodies, landfills and destroys our environment. Overproduction of food is very complicated, but how many breakfast cereals does the country need? We save food that gets thrown away.”
Not a traditional food bank, people make a token donation of $35, $25 or $15 and in return they get $300 worth of food. The main difference is that those who serve more come early and therefore have a better choice of food.
Interestingly, not everyone who attends is food insecure. “We have people struggling to make ends meet. They have a choice to feed their kids or pay the electricity bill. Then we also have people with six-figure incomes who are aware of the carbon footprint of the environment and recycling. They come in because they don’t want the food to go to landfills.”
Everyone stressed that there are endless ways to volunteer time or money that will help raise the level of hunger insecurity in the metro area. Tate wrote about his activities on Facebook and his neighbors responded with moral support and donations. “If you really want to do something to help, just do it. Get up and go ahead and do it.”
how can I help
Second help: secondhelpingsatlanta.org
Atlanta Community Food Bank: acfb.org