A porch isn’t just a place for rocking chairs, swings, and sipping sweet tea. In cities around the country, including two in metro Atlanta, it’s now a vital part of a program in which neighbors are helping neighbors to feed the hungry.
The concept of PORCH Communities was developed by three women in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the last major recession more than a decade ago (the acronym stands for People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill). It’s since been replicated in 30 cities in nine states, including Marietta and Decatur in Georgia.
The premise is simple: volunteers determine their local food banks’ most significant needs each month, call on their neighbors for help, and then collect the neighbors’ donations from their front porches. Neighbors can participate monthly or as often as they want.
Credit: Phil Skinner
Credit: Phil Skinner
“They can help without making too much of an effort,” said Liz Platner, founder of PORCH-Marietta. “But you add up the contributions from all the neighbors together, and it makes a great impact.”
PORCH-Marietta launched in February 2022 and, by its first anniversary, had collected 12,000 pounds of food for pantries at the Center for Family Resources and Brumby Elementary School in Marietta, she said.
The organization also raised money to stock the snack closet at Cobb County’s Sedalia Park Elementary School, where 57% of students are identified as economically disadvantaged. Other PORCH communities have similar school snack programs designed to lessen the chances that student learning is impeded by hunger.
Platner, a former teacher, and current substitute teacher, began volunteering in 2018 with North Fulton Community Charities, a nonprofit that addresses a range of issues with low-income families, including hunger.
But during the pandemic, she decided, “I really want to help the people closer to home, in my community,” she said.
Platner knew of PORCH. Her sister-in-law was one of the founders of the first PORCH in 2010.
And she knew of the great need. Her PORCH website provides data from Feeding America, showing about 64,630 Cobb County residents are classified as “food insecure,” meaning that, because of a lack of money or resources, they may not have access to quality food, a variety of foods, or the amount of food they need.
The program launched with three neighborhoods in East Cobb and has grown to 16, Platner said.
The PORCH donations have been a great help to staff at the Center for Family Resources, which has been providing assistance with basic needs such as food and shelter to Cobb County residents for 60 years, said CEO Melanie Kagan.
“Donations from PORCH are tailored to our needs, and they do a phenomenal job communicating our monthly wish lists with their generous donors,” Kagan said. “PORCH is a valuable partner that is helping us keep children housed and fed, one family at a time.”
Julie Lance, a Cobb County Schools social worker, said PORCH-Marietta has given “our school the ability to immediately address hunger by providing snacks for those who may forget to bring one and also for those who may not have the means to bring one.”
The school district provides free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, and the snacks from PORCH help “fill a gap.”
Decatur’s PORCH started in July 2021. Barbara Hardin and two other women from Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Decatur had collaborated on a successful fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Florence “and wanted to harness that momentum,” Hardin said.
A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Hardin read about PORCH in her alumni newspaper and pitched the idea to her friends. The three women brought it to their church, which gave them a place to collect and sort donations from their monthly food drive.
Hardin said about 20 neighborhoods in Decatur participate, and in 2021-2022, gave more than $72,000 in non-perishable food donations and several thousand dollars in cash donations. Those donations are given to seven food insecurity-focused charities, including the Decatur Emergency Assistance Ministry (DEAM), Atlanta Communities Food Bank, International Rescue Committee, Casa Alterna, and Free 99 Fridge. Hardin said the largest share of the food goes to DEAM, which serves more than 250 families every month.
“Our reach has helped our neighbors, as well as the refugee community,” said Hardin, who co-founded PORCH-Decatur while working fulltime in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egelston campus. “Our work impacts our volunteers, too. They say they get much personal satisfaction in making a direct difference in the lives of others.”
PORCH-Decatur and PORCH-Marietta are hosting PORCH Party for Pantries, an awareness and fundraising family event at Holy Trinity parish, 515 East Ponce de Leon Ave. from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on April 23. The bands The Druid Hills Billys and the Rob Platner Trio will be there. Boar’s Head hot dogs, Wild Heaven beer, and lemonade will be served. Kids’ games will be available. Admission is a donation of non-perishable food or $5; beer tickets are $5. Bring a chair or blanket.
To start a PORCH community in your area, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or to help locally, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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