Spirit of Joy Food Pantry

Community jemcf storiesofchange sojfoodpantry 1380x776

The Spirit of Joy Food Pantry originated in 2001 as one of the first food pantries in Hall County.

“So many people in our area were without food and there weren’t many local food banks at the time, so we started this ministry,” recalls Rev. Garen Dodson of Spirit of Joy Church. “The responsibility we’re given by God is to care for other people, and this is a way we can show we care for and love them.”

The food pantry in Flowery Branch is a member of and receives most of its food from Georgia Mountain Food Bank. Spirit of Joy distributes food on the second and third Saturdays to residents of Banks, Barrow, Hall and Jackson counties. Food distributions take place at Cornerstone Assembly, a Flowery Branch church that houses the food pantry.

“Our mission is to distribute food to those in need and to refer people to sources that provide things we don’t,” says Dodson.

Families may visit the food pantry once a month and are required to show a photo ID and proof of residency to receive food. Most families are referred to the food pantry by the Department of Family and Children Services, Gainesville Action Ministries, and other area food pantries, nonprofits and churches. Clients receive boxes filled with vegetables, pasta, soup and other staples.

“We see that everybody gets some of everything,” says Dodson. “We also distribute frozen meat, something that many people lack now because it’s gotten so expensive.”

Food Pantry volunteers stock the shelves and pack boxes for families in need. In 2020, Spirit of Joy served 803 families with a total of 2,565 individuals. “We were swamped with twice the need and our resources were strained,” says Dodson.

The pastor expresses gratitude for the unity in community displayed by Cornerstone Assembly, which partners with the food pantry to offer food to the hungry. He recalls how, at the same time Spirit of Joy was searching for a larger space to store and distribute food, Cornerstone Assembly was praying about starting a food pantry. When Dodson called Cornerstone Pastor Steve Stewart in 2017, Spirit of Joy was welcomed with open arms.

“I cannot stress enough the amazing participation from Cornerstone Assembly,” says Dodson. “They have given us room for the food pantry operation along with moral, physical, financial and spiritual support. By partnering with Cornerstone Church, the two have become one when it comes to helping others.”

The Jackson EMC Foundation has partnered with Spirit of Joy Food Pantry for 15 years, providing grants to help the ministry serve the nutritional needs of its community.

“The Foundation has enabled us to feed the hungry of our area,” says Dodson. “We’ve never had to turn anyone away, and we are indeed grateful for that.”