One year later: Sandy Springs pandemic food pantry continues to feed families

Lori Ayson (left) and Jennifer Lott organized some of the food donations at the food pantry inside Samad Mediterranean Grill and Market. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

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Lori Ayson (left) and Jennifer Lott organized some of the food donations at the food pantry inside Samad Mediterranean Grill and Market. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Visitors to a Sandy Springs pantry Friday carried out boxes of free food that for many will last through the weekend. In addition to packages of pasta, rice, bagels and other goods, three packaged meals were provided for each child in a family.

“We wouldn’t get as much food without this help,” Daisy Rodezno said. The Sandy Springs mother of three said she’s not working and has come to the food pantry throughout the pandemic.

The pantry opened a year ago, on March 12, 2020, when schools and businesses shut down. Run with community-wide support inside Samad Mediterranean Grill and Market at North River Shopping Center, the pantry provides food to 75 families each day it’s open, according to the lead pantry organizer Jennifer Lott. The pantry typically operates two days a week and remains unnamed. At one point, it served 150 families each day it was open, she said.

Lott is the co-president of Sandy Springs Charter Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization. She brainstormed the idea for the pantry last March after the school announced it was closing. Lott emailed teachers, potential volunteers and the owners of the grill market asking if the restaurant could host the pantry. Many of the first donations were goods Lott purchased with financial contributions from her school PTO members.

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Daisy Rodezno, right, and her niece Zoad picked up food items from the food pantry. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Daisy Rodezno, right, and her niece Zoad picked up food items from the food pantry. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

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Daisy Rodezno, right, and her niece Zoad picked up food items from the food pantry. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

On Friday, a van from Meals 4 Kids dropped off more than 1,000 packaged meals and boxes filed with dozens of cartons of milk and juice. The meals were paid for by Bold Ministries of Conyers, Lott said.

“As this was going on, organizations started contacting us and asking how they can participate in helping,” Lott said. “So they just started bringing us things.”

Lott said the pantry is intended as a supplement for meals provided for families of students attending the middle school, four local elementary schools and North Springs High School. But anyone in need is welcome, she said.

“We are making things slightly easier for them right now,” Lott said of visitors to the food pantry. “It’s not a forever fix but it’s a Band-Aid.”

Lott and Lesley Samad, co-owner of the restaurant grill with her husband Jamal, said they didn’t foresee the pantry growing and touching the community in the way that it has.

Congregation B’nai Torah pays for food provided from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Lott said. The Sandy Springs Bottle Shop a few doors down allows the pantry to store gallons of milk donated by Borden Dairy in its cooler. St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church provides cases of food items every week.

“We made them a wish list months ago and their parishioners go shopping and drop the items off at the church,” Lott said. Church member, Elise MacIntyre, brings the items to pantry on Fridays.

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Meals 4 Kids delivered bins filled with packaged meals and boxes of milk and juice to the food pantry. Bold Ministries of Conyers paid for the food and arranged delivery.

Meals 4 Kids delivered bins filled with packaged meals and boxes of milk and juice to the food pantry. Bold Ministries of Conyers paid for the food and arranged delivery.

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Meals 4 Kids delivered bins filled with packaged meals and boxes of milk and juice to the food pantry. Bold Ministries of Conyers paid for the food and arranged delivery.

Samad said grill customers sometimes anonymously buy lunch for volunteers or donate money before leaving.

“What really brings me to tears is when someone is in line to buy food and then they see them and want to volunteer,” Samad said.

The pantry and grill is located in a part of Sandy Springs that is known more for its affluence than for residents who are food insecure.

“At the same time, too, the people that you would never guess that are in need, are in need,” Samad said. So you can’t judge by the car that somebody pulls up in or the clothes that they’re wearing because you just don’t know.”