COVID-19 has made for a tough time for many. Especially huggers.
“We’re huggers, we see our families every week and we normally greet them with a big hug, so it’s been hard to keep our distance,” Brigette Barker, Executive Director of Lumpkin County Family Connection said.
Yet while Barker and her team may be struggling to provide the community with the affection they would normally be able to show through their hugs, the folks at Family Connection are still going above and beyond to provide for the needs of Lumpkin County in these difficult times where need is at an all-time high.
“With our Backpack Buddies program, we do about 3,000 pounds of food a month, we provided over 8,000 pounds of food last month,” Barker said.
But because of this, now Family Connection needs help as well.
“Our budget was not prepared for that. The other piece of it is we can get food from the food bank at a shared maintenance cost of 16 cents a pound but we can only get what they have on inventory so we get what we can from them but today we’re saying there’s certain things we don’t have,” Barker said.
Barker’s team put out the need on Facebook, calling for “pasta and pasta sauce, rice, boxed skillet meals and soups or raviolis” from anyone able and willing to donate these items, in a post on Monday.
Sally Edwards at Striker Marketing came up with an idea to help Family Connection in a different way.
“My husband and I sort of had the idea of let’s do a T-shirt, let’s do something that can help for Family Connection,” Edwards said.
The idea: making T-shirts and tumblers with a portion of the proceeds going to support the non-profit.
Edwards’s connection to Family Connection goes back to her childhood, as her mother Anita Middleton was the first person to hold the role that Barker now fills.
“Her mom was the director for years, I don’t even know how long...so [Edwards]’s always had close ties with Family Connection,” Barker said.
The items feature the phrase “For Lumpkin—One Town—One Tribe” and can be ordered now through Sunday, April 12, with $5 donated to Family Connection for each item sold. When designing the look, Edwards and her husband wanted to embody the purpose of the efforts. The words “For Lumpkin” stuck.
“For some reason we said because this is going to be for Lumpkin...then we just said that’s really the heart of this is that it’s for Lumpkin . . . and we really want Lumpkin County to get behind it,” Edwards said.
While these are hard times, Edwards believes there’s something special in the way an entire community gets behind a cause like this.
“As much as this is such a hard time for our community, I think at the same time, in some ways I think it draws us closer, sometimes adversity really helps us come together as a community,” she said. “And we wanted to be a part of that.”
In the meantime, Barker has gotten creative to provide food for those who need it.
“Our food pantry was low and Walmart is very low and so we got creative and said if we got in a bind like we foresaw coming, where we did not have groceries, that we would be able to purchase restaurant gift cards.”
Thanks to a $5000 grant awarded to Family Connection, they were able to do just that.
“That was a blessing to a lot of restaurants in town,” she said. “Spent a lot of money at a lot of restaurants, wanted to give out a lot of hugs, there were some tears, they were very thankful.”
Barker has also worked to partner with local restaurants around town who are serving family-sized meals, allowing donors to sponsor a meal for a family in need, which Family Connection would then deliver to that family. Barker said these meals have been very crucial.
“We’ve had a couple of families that are quarantined that we’ve had to make deliveries to, so you know those meals, to families who aren’t feeling well, are an even bigger blessing than the non-perishable food items,” she said.
The innovative partnership between Family Connection and local restaurants has caught on in other places around the state as well.
“Other counties got really excited about what we’re doing with the restaurants and other Family Connections have already started implementing it in other counties,” Barker said. “We had a regional phone call on Friday and several other counties launched the same initiative by the end of that day, so we’re even working with others outside of our county to try to come up with creative solutions.”
Shenanigans Irish Pub, who has stopped its normal food serving operations to offer their resources as groceries to the public to combat grocery shortages for locals, is partnering with Family Connection to allow them to buy food needed to restock the food pantry at cost.
“It’s just kind of everybody helping everyone,” Barker said.
Alongside Family Connection, Community Helping Place is fighting a similar fight, working to keep families in Lumpkin County fed with their drive-thru food pantry and other initiatives. Similarly, they’re also attempting to raise funds to restock their pantry.
And once again Barker was involved in the help.
“Brigette Barker...actually put into motion this fundraiser for Community Helping Place and we love the message of hope that it spreads,” Jules Procopio told The Nugget.
Like the shirts and tumblers, this fundraiser also spreads much-needed positivity through its words. The product, yard signs reading “Everything will be OK,” can be purchased from Creative Printing and Ink for $15, with five dollars of each purchase going to Community Helping Place.
“Every little bit of money donated helps us do the work we do, but honestly, in this case it's the contemplative message of “Everything will be OK” we think is as important in this time,” Procopio said.
To order a yard sign call Sherry at Creative Printing (706) 482-0210, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To purchase a “For Lumpkin” T-shirt or tumbler, visit strikermarketing.net/products.
For more information on either organization, visit their websites at lumpkin.gafcp.org/ for Lumpkin County Family Connection and communityhelpingplace.org for Community Helping Place and follow them on Facebook.