For around a decade, some local churches have been providing "Saturday sacks" of food to local elementary school students.
"Every k-5 school in both school systems, city and county, has a church that partners with them," said Suzanne Hooie, minister of missions for First Baptist Church of Dalton. "We partner with Westwood School. We serve about 90 students each weekend. This was a need that teachers alerted us to. There are students who don't get to eat on the weekends. The only meals they get are at school."
The program was started by Dalton First United Methodist Church.
"We buy our food from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank," said Hooie. "All the churches do. It's really easy because the food bank has a warehouse here in Dalton, and we go pick it up. We get the food for pennies on the dollar. We couldn't do as much if we had to buy from a grocery store. Having the food bank here helps us so much, and we are thrilled they are getting a grant to help them expand."
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank was recently awarded a $2.4 million community development block grant (CDBG) from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that will allow the food bank to buy the warehouse, renovate it and expand the food bank's operations in Northwest Georgia. The food bank will provide $785,000 in matching funds.
The food bank partnered with Whitfield County to obtain the grant. The county will administer the funds, and on Tuesday, the county Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 to accept the grant. Board Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only if there is a tie.
"We are very happy to partner with the food bank on this project, which will allow them to better serve the residents of Whitfield County and all of Northwest Georgia," said Jensen.
One-third of the food distributed by the Chattanooga Area Food Bank is distributed in nine Northwest Georgia counties: Whitfield, Murray, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon and Walker. Last year, the food bank and its partner agencies distributed 6.4 million pounds of groceries in the Northwest Georgia region, according to Melanie Hammontree, director or development for the food bank.
The food bank partners with 83 agencies and churches in Northwest Georgia, 38 in Whitfield County, to provide 118 programs that serve families struggling with hunger.
"According to Feeding America, it is projected that 64,970 individuals are food insecure in these nine Northwest Georgia counties," said Hammontree.
The food bank's Dalton warehouse on South Hamilton Street is its hub for Northwest Georgia, distributing food to agencies in all nine counties.
"We are very, very excited to receive this grant," said Hammontree.
Hammontree said having a permanent location will allow the food bank to "provide better access to fresh and healthy food options like produce and dairy, provide better food stability with a more customized distribution experience, and expand operations to increase community engagement in the fight against hunger."
Hammontree said the Department of Community Affairs has made CDBG funding opportunities available to local governments to help the nine Georgia food banks improve their facilities.
"This funding is specifically designated for preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19," she said. "The nine Georgia food banks which serve all 159 counties in Georgia have experienced a dramatic increase in demand due to COVID-19. To continue the response to COVID-19 and prepare for future surges or events, additional physical capacity is needed by the food banks."
She said the improvements will include:
• Increased capacity for refrigerated and freezer storage for perishables and frozen products.
• An increase in dry storage from 7,600 to 9,600 square feet.
• The addition of three dock doors to provide improved shipping and receiving.
• Space for volunteers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach.
Hammontree said the food bank "has made good headway" in raising the matching funds but doesn't have the full amount. She said the state has set Dec. 31, 2023, as the date the work on the warehouse must be complete.
Those who have questions about the project or who are interested in donating to the food bank can contact Hammontree at firstname.lastname@example.org.