7 food banks. 2,000 pantries. 750,000 people in need.
Fighting hunger in Georgia is no small task. In Athens-Clarke County alone, the food insecurity rate is 21.7 percent, which is higher than the state average of 17.7 percent and national average of 15.4 percent. The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia is one of many organizations dedicated to lowering the numbers of those in need.
“Ending hunger fits squarely in with the American experience,” says John Becker, the president and CEO of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia works with over 225 area food pantries, soup kitchens, churches, and non-profit organizations, but these traditional outlets have limitations. Many in need of help are ashamed of their situation.
“They don’t want to ask for help. They want to be strong and support their families themselves,” explains Debbie Plemmons, a project analyst for the Economic Development Department of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.
Finding a solution to this problem inspired Plemmons and her team to create the Little Free Pantries for their final project through the LEAD Athens program. Plemmons wanted to create an environment where people could anonymously take what they need and donate what they can.
“People can give. It’s noncommittal. They can just drop something off when they want to,” says Plemmons. “For the people taking the food, there’s no shame in it. They don’t have to fill out an application. They can come by, just like the person dropping it off. They don’t have to ask for help.”
There are eight Little Free Pantries currently in the works for the Athens area, and each location is striving to fill a specific need in the community. reBlossom Mama & Baby Center will be one of the first locations to receive a pantry. Monira Silk, the founder and owner, is excited to dedicate her pantry to food and resources mothers and babies need.
“We already have a small collection of things in the back. People have brought in baby food containers, rice cereal, formula, different types of food items you might not need forever,” says Silk.
Silk has operated a hidden pantry through the store for several years. Customers were able to drop off items, and reBlossom would pass along the donations to mothers in need.
“The Little Free Pantry is going to improve on that because it can be outside and accessed 24/7,” says Silk. “Before people had to come inside to ask about what we had, now they can just take what they need as they need it.”
The first pantry was unveiled in March, and the rest are set to be installed throughout the summer, starting with reBlossom. Though Plemmons was initially nervous, she has been thrilled by the response.
“That first day we put stuff in it, and then by the end of the day, it was gone. It proved that it was a need, and our community wanted to help with that need.”
The early success of the Little Free Pantries shows, when it comes to fighting hunger, a little can go a long way.