Food ministries still have hands full

By Clay Wilson

When people need food in the Southern Crescent, there is no dearth of places for them to turn.

Frankie Hopper says there are hundreds of food pantries and similar ministries in the metro Atlanta area. So when Jodeco Road United Methodist Church started a food pantry in 2001, said the pantry's director, "We wanted to be a little different."

"We deliver" is the slogan on the Internet site of the "Jodeco on the Road" Food Pantry. Each Wednesday evening and Saturday morning, volunteers deliver food to people who have no transportation or who are physically unable to pick it up. The food is donated by churchgoers and members of the community.

Last year the ministry made more than 170 deliveries. Since its inception it has made more than 370.

Still, ministry volunteers say they know these numbers only scratch the surface of the need for food assistance in the area.

"To be quite honest, I think the need is so great (that) we haven't really found a way to reach all the hungry people," said Sandee Fletcher, missions chairwoman at Jodeco Road UMC and a pantry volunteer. "We know they're there."

So does Annette Lee at Feed My People, Inc. Lee said the Stockbridge ministry served 822 families – almost 3,000 people – from April through December of last year. She said Feed My People distributes an average of 100,000 lbs. of produce per year to the 26 area food ministries with which it partners.

In the last six months of 2003, the Henry County Department of Family and Children's Services received more than 500 applications for "expedited" food stamp assistance. The department referred all of these applicants to Feed My People and Helping in His Name-The Food Pantry, Inc. in McDonough.

But according to DFCS Deputy Director Debra Chavis, the department referred many more people who didn't apply for food stamps to the ministries.

No information was immediately available on food stamp applications to Clayton County DFCS. However, the department's community resource directory lists 13 food assistance organizations in the county.

While not a food assistance ministry itself, Calvary Refuge Center in Forest Park works with such groups. Longtime Calvary Refuge volunteer and publicity coordinator Tawana Tarno said the center, which provides both transitional and emergency housing for the homeless, refers clients seeking food assistance to one of the other groups.

However, Calvary Refuge does serve food – two hot meals and a sack lunch – to those in its emergency shelter program. Last year this encompassed 645 people: 232 men, 300 women and 113 children.

The center recently became the beneficiary of a referral from "Jodeco on the Road."

According to Hopper, a member of Henry County's Mt. Olive Baptist Church (which has partnered with Jodeco on the Road) works for a Duluth food distribution company. That company agreed to donate packets of peanut butter and separate packets of jelly for the sack lunches Calvary provides to its emergency clients.

"The community pretty much feeds the emergency shelter," said Tarno.

She said the peanut butter and jelly in separate packets has been a big hit, both with the staff, who now let the clients make their own sandwiches; and with the clients, who now get to choose whether they want jelly on their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Hopper said Jodeco on the Road appreciates the donation, too. "The Bible says we do not live by bread alone, but it sure helps – and if it has peanut butter, that's even better."