By Johnny Jackson
Henry County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Wilson guided motorists through the traffic jam that plugged Ga. Highway 42. Wilson said he began directing traffic into the Helping in His Name Ministries, Inc., Food Pantry at about 6 a.m., on June 26, though many needy families had arrived on-site an hour and a half earlier.
The Food Pantry was able to feed most of them -- more than 500 families -- as a part of its largest-ever, one-day food distribution, said Nola Love, president of the Stockbridge-based pantry. "I sit back every day and see a miracle," said Love. "My biggest concern was that the traffic would be a problem. But my team has worked faithfully to put this together."
The food distribution was made possible through funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, according to Kim Kurtz, an agency coordinator at the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Georgia's Department of Human Resources, Kurtz said, received the ARRA funds, and passed them along to various agencies, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, in order to have food supplies distributed to needy families around the state.
"The Atlanta Community Food Bank is one of seven regional food banks around the state, and represents 46 counties within the northwest corner of Georgia," Kurtz said. "We serve over 800 agencies in the 46-county region. Helping in His Name is one of our largest agencies in Henry County."
Kurtz said food distributions have been taking place state-wide to assist needy families.
"I think the overall message is that there are a lot of families in need in the community, but every single person has a right to have food to live," she added. "That's a basic human right to me. They need to know that they can come home, and get a meal, and not be hungry."
One recipient, Wyocha Willis, made an early trip to Stockbridge from her home in Griffin. Willis, who has been without a job for more than a year, was joined by her granddaughter, Monique Woods, and 1-year-old great-granddaughter, Nyon Thomas.
"I'm blessed to be here, and I'm grateful that they are giving this year," Willis said. "I think they're doing a good job."
As the hundreds of families arrived throughout the day, they were greeted by some of the 50 volunteers, including United Parcel Service employees and members of local churches, who prepared 80-pound packages of food, and directed the dense traffic leading to the pantry.
"Drive carefully, and God bless you," sang volunteer, Jim Lee. "I couldn't say it enough," said Lee, as passersby responded in kind. "God blesses us every single day. I'm just having a lot of fun helping people realize that there is joy in the world."
Carlos Dimas, who regularly volunteers at the pantry, offered to transport food items to three needy families in the Fayetteville area. "It's really what God sent us to do in this world," said Dimas.
"I think my helping other people, that's what God wants," added fellow volunteer, Kate Tumilty, as she packed canned goods into a paper bag. "I feel good helping people in need, and I think this is great."
Volunteers packed more than 500 food packages, complete with 56 assorted canned goods, three packs of sausage patties, five packs of cheese, two containers of apple juice, two packs of dry milk, two cartons of soup, 1.5 gallons of milk, chips, bananas, and water, reported Lori Miller, the pantry's executive director. "We're excited because it seems to be well-needed, based on all the response," Miller said. "We were praying that we'd get a good response."
President Love estimated that the pantry received 20 pallets of non-perishable food items, and four pallets of perishable foods and other items for the distribution effort on Saturday.
Love reiterated, however, that the effort continues for the pantry on a daily basis. She and the volunteers returned to business as usual on Monday, serving some 80 families in the regular food program. "We constantly glean for food, or money, any place we can," she said. "One of the things we need is more community involvement.
"My vision is that we can raise the funds to purchase the property next door to us," she said. "We've almost outgrown this facility, but I want to meet the challenge of helping needy families and stamp out hunger."