Brigette Barker, executive director for Lumpkin County Family Connection, relies on numbers to tell the story of COVID-19’s impact on her agency’s mission to provide food to families in need.
“Before the pandemic, we were feeding 40 families a week, and that went up to 120 a week,” she says. “Whereas we used to give out 3,000 pounds of food each month, we were doing 10,000 pounds because of the virus.”
Routinely, Lumpkin County Family Connection provides food on weekends for about 140 children through its Backpack Buddies Program, which sends kids home from school each Friday with backpacks loaded with food. But that number more than doubled last spring.
“We found ourselves in a predicament around March,” says Barker. “We started to see what was coming with COVID, and items from food banks were getting scarce. Then when school closed, we started to panic because the number of requests tripled.”
Due to school cancelations and parents losing income during the pandemic, the need for assistance with food increased dramatically, according to Barker.
“But inventory at the food bank dropped really low, so our food pantry was empty,” she adds. “With inventory also low at grocery stores, we had to get creative in order to feed families. We purchased food wherever we could find it—grocery stores, restaurants, food banks—so we could get it to families who get free and reduced lunches or were otherwise affected by COVID.”
At the height of the pandemic, more than 60 volunteers helped box food at Family Connection’s office at Lumpkin County Middle School where drive-up distributions were held since students weren’t in school to get backpacks. Families received nonperishables, meats, milk and fresh produce. The Jackson EMC Foundation grant helped the nonprofit continue its cause.
“A good portion of our funding already comes from the Jackson EMC Foundation, which covers half of the 140 children we typically serve,” says Barker. “Then we got an email asking if we needed more funding. We were telling people ‘We’ll feed you, we’ll feed you,’ but we didn’t know how we were going to do that. It was definitely a faith over fear moment.”
The grant was approved about the same time Lumpkin County schools were on spring break, Barker recalls: “Schools had started doing meals, but they weren’t providing them during spring break. We used some of the money from the emergency grant to purchase families gift cards to local restaurants that were struggling as well. It was a great opportunity to help not only families that were hurting but small businesses in our community.”
Like many nonprofit agencies who weathered the COVID-19 crisis, Lumpkin County Family Connection has made numerous operational changes, including holding weekly food drives in the summer whereas food was only distributed upon request during past summer breaks.
Bottom line, says Barker, “We haven’t had to turn away anyone, thanks to this emergency grant.”