That has been the stance Stacy Long, director of the Voluntary Action Center, has taken as she and other volunteers in the community began addressing the growing problem of hunger in Gordon County through the opening of the community kitchen earlier this summer.
“There aren’t a lot of things you can do to help someone out of a situation, but you can help nourish their body,” Long said.
Approximately 10,000 people in Calhoun and Gordon County benefited from the food pantry services offered through the community, according to statistics compiled by the VAC.
Opening up in June, the Calhoun community kitchen, which is run by volunteers, serves lunch one day a week, Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The kitchen is located in a yellow and green building beside the VAC thrift store at 343 South Wall Street, which is a temporary location for the time being, Long said.
During the first month, there were a total of 215 people that came in for meals, averaging around 50 meals once a week, according to VAC data.
The VAC, whose motto is the heart of a caring community, provides a wide variety of services, including emergency, food and school supplies as well as services and medical assistance to Gordon County residents.
According to Long, the VAC has assisted 3,000 people with financial and in-kind relief last year.
Hunger hides in working class adults
“We are absolutely overjoyed that we can offer one more food service to our clients. There are so many parents out there that take care of their children first and put themselves last. A lot do without. We are so thankful to have an avenue for the adults and hopefully they will not have to make a decision to do without,” Long said.
Long wants to remind the community that the hot meals are not just for the homeless, but for many working adults, who can't always keep up with rising food prices.
“The message we have been telling people is this a place to find comfort to eat. It’s not just for the people that can’t afford a meal. It’s for the working class individuals too. Those that have had financial situations come up and this could be a way for them to save money that they would spend on lunch to pay a medical that might have come up for an unforeseen expense at home or a minor flood or insurance or whatever the situation is,” she said.
“We want it to be a welcoming place for all to eat. Those that have the ability to pay, we still want you to eat here. You can make a donation,” she added.
Gordon County’s unemployment average is still higher than the state average of 9.7, which is contributing to the number of families needing assistance, Long said.
According to statistics provided by Georgia Department of Labor, Gordon County’s unemployment figures before the summer months rose from 11 percent in April to 11.2 percent in May, with a labor force of 25,080 dropping to around 22,278 employed.
Future plans meals and food
Looking ahead, Long said the kitchen would serve food five days a week.
“We will start weaning off one day and serve more days a week,” Long said. “I’m not really sure when this will happen, but we are working on it.”
The VAC community kitchen will eventually be housed at a permanent location on the “back campus,” located behind the VAC.
“As far as the building, we are still in limbo. So, our board of directors is temporarily outfitting the building we are (now) using as the kitchen. Since we will be there for a while, we are going to get set up with a stove and a sink in August,” she said.
Long said that they are hoping to eventually obtain food from a food bank for a low price.
“The long range plan is for us to be able to utilize Atlanta and Chattanooga food pantry kitchens. It’s so inexpensive to buy by the pound. We can buy food at $250 and $500 to serve 20 meals a month,” she said. “We have a gentleman that’s wanting to volunteer as the food service manager and plan menus and he will let me know how much we can purchase.”
Currently, the community kitchen has been staffed by volunteer organizations, such as churches and community groups that purchase, cook and serve the food, Long said.
“We do greatly appreciate the groups who have come here,” she said.
According to Long, the first meal was sponsored by the members of the VAC board of directors. Others were sponsored by Shaw Industries, Maranatha North Ga. Church in conjunction with Crane Eater Community Church, First Presbyterian, First Methodist Church and Calhoun Kiwanis Club in conjunction with Gordon County Optimist Club.
How can you help?
The VAC said they are thankful for the support of the community, and appreciate all of the volunteers who have stepped up to be a part of the kitchen.
“We are still accepting donation from the community, whether it’s in-kind donation so we can purchase things or food items or things such as paper plates,” Long said.
Email email@example.com or call 706-629-7283 if you would like to help or make a donation.