Citizen of the Week: Barrett's 'calming presence' greatly benefited Gratefull 2019, also helping with this year's event

The inaugural edition of Gratefull — a community meal downtown that drew roughly 1,400 people — couldn't have succeeded in 2019 without the nearly 300 volunteers who pitched in to help, and few if any volunteers provided more value than Matt Barrett.

With his prior experience in catering and event planning, Barrett was crucial in helping organizers decide not only the menu — which reflected this community by serving traditional Thanksgiving fare as well as Latin offerings like tamales — but how much food they'd need from local restaurants, said Allyson Coker, project manager for Believe Greater Dalton, the organization that spearheaded Gratefull. "We had no idea how many people to expect, so it was a daunting task."

From the time he first became involved with Gratefull, Barrett "never missed a meeting," and on the day of the meal, he "took charge of where everything was" in the area where the food was stored before serving, directing volunteers exactly where to find dishes when they were required at the table, Coker said. As critical as he was with the event's "logistics, his calming presence was the greatest gift of all."

"He was calm in the midst of great chaos, and he kept everyone else calm," she said. "He's unflappable, and nothing shakes him."

While many communities canceled events in 2020 due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Barrett "pushed hard" for that not to be the case in Dalton, and Believe Greater Dalton has "pivoted" this year, Coker said. Rather than serving a meal to members of the community, people are asked to bring food items to the Burr Performing Arts Park in downtown Dalton on Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank so they can be shared with those in need in Whitfield County through local food banks.

Whitfield County is among the counties served by the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, and the food bank distributed more than 1 million meals in Whitfield County in 2018.

Due to the pandemic, Whitfield County is expected to see a more than 40% increase — nearly 60% for children — in food insecurity, or limited or uncertain access to adequate food, this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

People can bring "shelf-stable items," like mac-and-cheese, pastas, canned goods with easy open lids and breakfast cereals, to the park, Coker said. No one has to leave their vehicle if they don't want to, and representatives of the food bank will be on hand to sort donations.

As Believe Greater Dalton made the transition to this "Gratefull giveback," Barrett was again one of the first to raise his hand and say ''I'll be wherever you need me," Coker said. Barrett "always has a smile on his face — complete positivity — and he's one of a kind."

For his many contributions to Gratefull, the Daily Citizen-News names Matt Barrett Citizen of the Week.

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