By Sharon Hall
The coronavirus couldn’t have hit at a worse time for Lumpkin County’s Community Helping Place.
“We usually get a lot of our food through the regional food bank for pennies on the dollar. But one of the food banks was moving, so we started off the year with a low supply,” said CHP Executive Director Melissa Line.
Then when the Shelter in Place Order came down, people stopped shopping at the Thrift Store, which helps fund the organization’s food pantry.
“The first week of the shut down our thrift store sold $27 for one day, and normally that would have been about $700,” Line said. “The next week we closed.”
Meanwhile, there was about a 25-35 percent increase in need, she told The Nugget.
“Hope Abounds, another place we get help for our food pantry from, came by for a tour,” Line said. “We literally had two loaves of bread, four boxes of cereal and some canned food. She took pictures of the empty shelves.”
At the monthly board meeting Line explained the situation, asking each of the 18 members to raise $500 to help keep CHP going.
David Luke is one of CHP’s board members. He is also a member of Sunrise Rotary, and that organization’s foundation is where he went to seek help.
The organization committed to donate $8,000, but when Rotary President Robert Fuller went to club secretary Judi Cooley for the check, things got even better for CHP.
“She knew a person with the North Georgia Community Foundation (NGCF), and I got in touch with Michelle Prater, President and CEO of the Foundation. She said she would like to help, but it would be a week or so. But within 24 hours we met with her and the trustees and got a matching grant. I was blown away,” Fuller said. “It all happened so fast and smoothly. Good people come out of the woodwork when things get rough.”
When Fuller called, Prater said, she “loved the idea [of a matching grant] and that Fuller thought of NGCF first when considering an organization to partner with. … The way to make the greatest impact is by all of us working together and this is a great example of what collaboration can bring.”
NGCF was able to move quickly for two reasons—it decided to use available 2020 grant funding to support nonprofits helping those suffering because of COVID-19 and, in order to act quickly, it formed a Coronavirus Relief Fund.
“Anyone can make donations and these funds will go directly to nonprofits on the front lines, where the need is greatest,” Prater said. “We understand that it is important to move resources quickly and give money in strategic ways to address these critical needs. This is what NGCF is doing today and what we will continue doing.”
NGCF began in 1985 with the goal of helping people and nonprofits invest in their community.
“The North Georgia Community Foundation was built by the community to serve the community and exists today to strengthen our region by inspiring giving, investing in nonprofit organizations and mobilizing action,” Prater said. “We believe it is our responsibility to help strengthen our community during a crisis like this. We are standing in the gap, supporting those organizations that are on the front lines providing direct assistance to those impacted.”
The $16,000 CHP received will go a good ways towards keeping the organization going, but only for a limited amount of time. The local community, however, is also stepping into the breach.
“We’re getting regional food bank deliveries again. That’s a huge help. We don’t have to pay retail for food now. And we’re able to pick up from Walmart Feeding America again too. And the response from local churches has been phenomenal. They kept us open that first week of the shutdown,” Line said. “Then the Rotary Club picked up the baton, and the Foundation joined in …. Fr. John’s letter to the editor encouraging people to help us made a big difference. The next day money and food items started coming in.”
Fr. John Hamilton is the rector at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church and a member of CHP’s Board of Directors.
All that help was right on time.
“When the state of emergency was extended we had our biggest day ever. The food pantry and the need for emergency assistance saw exponential growth,” Line said.
Online donations, too, have picked up.
“I see donations of $50, $100, but one person’s donation of $10 really touched my heart,” she said. “When you make a donation you can leave a message. This person’s message said they had used the food pantry once, and they wanted to give back. That’s really what this place is about. This person gives a little and that person gives some and all together it makes a really big difference.”
To make a donation to CHP, go to communityhelpingplace.org and click donate at the top of the page. You can also help those suffering from the affects of COVID-19 by contributing to the NGCF’s Relief Fund at www.ngcf.org/covid19relief.