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Parents start food pantry to help out-of-work neighbors feed children during pandemic

The pantry opened Friday at a now-closed restaurant at The Prado shopping center, and lines of families are already stretching around the building every day.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Hungry children.

Their parents - out of work, trying to feed them.

Now, their neighbors, in the Sandy Springs area of north Fulton County, are trying to help, by opening a “pop up” food pantry.

“The very idea of children going hungry just hurts my soul,” one of the organizers, Jennifer Barnes, said Monday.

And word shot through the community on Friday when the pantry opened.

“We thought we had a boatload of food,” Barnes said. “Less than two hours into it, we ran out of food. And we still had 50 people on the sidewalk” waiting in line.

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The pantry is located in the “Under the Cork Tree Restaurant” - which had to close temporarily because of the pandemic - in The Prado Shopping Center at 5600 Roswell Road, just south of I-285.

The groceries are all donated.

Organizers say the restaurant’s owner, Jason Sheetz, gave them the key to the space, no questions asked, to use for the pantry, for as long as they need it.

When they ran out of food on Friday, organizers posted a request, on their Facebook group, for more donations of money and groceries.

“We just put the word back out and prayed for the fishes and the loaves to multiply, and, you know what? They did,” Barnes said.

Saturday the lines stretched around the building again, and organizers supplied food to 105 people before running out.

Sunday the long lines returned, and organizers supplied food to 120 people before running out.

Monday they closed to regroup, get more groceries, and restock, so they could reopen on Tuesday.

“We’re taking care of the people in our own backyard,” Barnes said.

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Barnes also has taped Xs on the sidewalk and inside the pantry to help parents who are in line stand six feet from each other. The parents are hotel housekeepers, restaurant workers, and others who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus shutdowns.

And there have been, so far, more parents seeking help than there has been food to give them all.

Organizers continue to raise money on their Facebook group, to buy more food.

Another one of the organizers, Sonia Simon, a military veteran, was once herself homeless, and will never forget what it meant to her when others helped her get through that time.

“I can understand what it’s like to not have,” she said. “They don’t have an income. So the need is here, and we’re here to serve and to help.”

Erin Olivier, another organizer, fought back tears as she described the sight of so many parents who are suddenly in need.

“It just really warms your soul, and they come and they’re so grateful,” she said. “There is such a need. And they’re so appreciative of having somewhere to go for help. You know, they have some dignity as they’re picking out food, and it’s lovely to see the community come together the way they have. It’s just amazing, the community effort, the unity of people, now, it’s just really heartwarming.”

They are trying to raise enough money to feed, potentially, thousands and thousands of additional children the week of April 6, which would normally have been spring break for Fulton County schools. Because next week is “spring break,” Fulton schools will not be distributing lunches at the 21 drop-off points where the school system has been delivering food to children while the students are studying at home during the pandemic. 

Tuesday morning, a spokesperson confirmed in an email to 11Alive News that the school system will be depending on volunteer organizations, including churches, next week to provide food for school children:

“It is correct that Fulton County Schools will be closed for Spring Break the week of April 6. However, we are very fortunate to be able to rely on our faith partners to facilitate food distribution to families who depend on school breakfast and lunch. Churches across Fulton County, from Alpharetta to Fairburn will receive and distribute the school system’s Atlanta Community Food Bank donation. The district will resume regular distribution the week of April 13.”

“Their moms and dads don’t have jobs,” Barnes said. “And we realize that these people are one paycheck or one week or two weeks away from not having money to provide for their family… there are people now who have no food in their house.”

So the volunteers are determined to try to meet this urgent, deep, sudden and increasing need in their own backyards.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.


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