By Cory Sekine-Pettite
These times certainly are unprecedented, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all of the virus-related news. But if you look and listen, there are bright spots, particularly when it comes to charity. In the toughest of times, people are quick to come together to help the less fortunate. One local organization that’s always there for the people of Cobb is the Cobb Community Foundation (CCF). Since the pandemic began, the people at CCF have resolved to help in any way they can.
For example, the CCF recently announced an initiative bringing together Noonday Association, Athena Farms, the Atlanta Braves, Ryder Trucks, S.A. White Oil Company, Mobilized Fuels, and numerous Cobb County non-profits who are working together to ensure that lack of storage space does not hinder Cobb non-profits’ food distribution efforts to those in need.
The Cobb Community Food Fleet began as an idea in mid-March when CCF contacted the United Way of Metro Atlanta – NW Region and Cobb Collaborative to assist in pulling together a group of non-profit, school district, and county government leaders to share the challenges each group and their constituencies were facing, make known the resources each group had available, and determine the best path forward to meet the needs in Cobb County. One of the many outcomes resulting from this group’s efforts is that in an environment where more than 100,000 Cobb residents have lost their jobs — more than half of them being in the lowest paying industries — Cobb’s non-profits are providing boxes of food to more than 5,000 families each week.
“Many of these organizations did not know that each other existed,” said Howard Koepka of Noonday, who coordinates the communications among 20-plus separate organizations distributing food in Cobb County, ranging from MUST Ministries to the two school systems to Cobb Senior Services to smaller organizations such as H.O.P.E. Family Resource Center in Mableton. “Now, they not only are aware of each other, they are eliminating duplications of services, identifying and serving areas unserved, and literally sharing food, box trucks, and other resources to make sure that everyone in Cobb County has access to food, regardless of whether or not they can pay for it.”
One of the greatest challenges facing these organizations is limited access to large quantities of food as a result of the disruption to the supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic, CCF reports. However, the USDA’s new Farmers to Families Food Box Program has created an abundance of certain foods, primarily produce, which Cobb’s food providers want to take full advantage of. The issue, according to Koepka, is storage. “Produce needs to be refrigerated, and no single organization has enough space to accommodate the … three thousand boxes that are now coming in each week from Athena Farms.”
Athena Farms, located in Forest Park, is one of more than 40 contractors in the Southeast region that was awarded funds from the USDA to distribute food boxes. Jessica Brantley, director of purchasing for Athena Farms, explained why they reached out to CCF. “We really liked that they are working to help resource non-profit food providers serving Cobb, so working through them is helping to feed much more than just the clients of a single organization.”
“While at least some of the immediate food shortage challenges have been resolved, we had to resolve the storage issue if food was going to make its way to those who need it,” said Shari Martin, president and CEO of Cobb Community Foundation. “Our mission statement includes the phrase, connecting donors who care with causes that matter.” She continued, “The Atlanta Braves stepped up to provide the refrigeration space that avails all of Cobb’s non-profit food providers of the produce coming in, at a time when members of our community need it most.”
The one remaining need, however, was to be able to accommodate the scarcest item of all right now: meat. Poultry, pork, beef, and fish all require a freezer, and the Atlanta Braves’ storage space was already full. What was not full, however, was their loading dock. Enter Kim Gresh, owner of S.A. White Oil Company and CCF board member. “So many of our customers want to help right now, so we reached out to one that we knew would want to be involved.” Enter Huddle House and one of their vendors Ryder Trucks. Ryder has made available a 53-foot freezer container and trailer, which Huddle House transported to the stadium. Alongside was Mobilized Fuels, S.A. White’s sister company, that will provide the diesel fuel needed to keep the freezer running between now and the end of August.
Over these next two months, Noonday will be coordinating the logistics of food delivery by Athena Farms and other providers and the subsequent pick-up by five of the larger food non-profits: MUST Ministries, Storehouse Ministries, Reflections of Trinity, Sweetwater Mission, and Family Life Restoration Center. These organizations will be picking up food not for their clients, but also for other smaller non-profit food providers. The involvement of the for-profit community, the non-profit community, and even the local and Federal governments to provide, store and deliver food throughout Cobb made Cobb Community Food Fleet the ideal name for the initiative.
In the meantime, CCF continues to identify resources, financial and otherwise, to help feed Cobb. “Thanks to the Cobb Board of Commissioners’ grant of $1 million for food last month,” noted Martin, “these organizations will be able to purchase additional food needed in bulk.” Martin says this will allow the non-profits greater access and preferred pricing. “And thanks to these great partners, we’ll have a place to store it.”
Frozen meat and canned and dry goods remain in demand, and Martin and her team are on the hunt. “This is just another opportunity to connect donors who care with causes that matter.” For more information, visit cobbfoundation.org.