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Sandy Springs food pantry receives $25K from the city

Erin Olivier and Jennifer Barnes with Solidarity Sandy Springs food pantry are with Jackie Merkel (center), the owner of Bishoku. Photo Courtesy: Solidarity Sandy Springs
Erin Olivier and Jennifer Barnes with Solidarity Sandy Springs food pantry are with Jackie Merkel (center), the owner of Bishoku. Photo Courtesy: Solidarity Sandy Springs

A food pantry serving a Latino community in Sandy Springs has received a $25,000 grant from the city. The pantry has received other types of assistance from the community and businesses to help feed an underserved neighborhood.

Solidarity Sandy Springs food pantry on Northwood Drive was started by three Sandy Springs women in March to serve families at Lake Forest and High Point Elementary Schools. Food insecurity will continue to be an issue for families while schools stay closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, pantry co-founder Jennifer Barnes said.

Last Tuesday, Sandy Springs City Council approved a $25,000 grant to help feed families that come to the pantry for assistance.

“We have got so many people here who are actually hungry who are poor and are depending upon the generosity and service of people like Solidarity Sandy Springs,” Councilman Tibby DeJulio said during the meeting. “We just really need to make sure we do whatever we can to help people in Sandy Springs who are in need.”

During a State of the City address on July 9, Mayor Rusty Paul said the Northwood neighborhood had an increase in coronavirus and COVID-19 cases compared to some other areas of the city.

“Families in that community are in fear about about how they will survive,” said Toren Anderson, a pantry spokesperson.

“The need keeps growing,” Anderson said. “They didn’t get any stimulus package. They don’t get unemployment and they were literally hungry.”

The pantry serves nearly 200 families from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Barnes estimates it will take another $250,000 to help feed the households through the end of the year.

Most donations come from the community. About 10% comes through assistance from Congregation B’nai Torah. The synagogue has an account with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and pays for donations to the pantry.

“We all know it’s a terrible time for most people who are not in a good position to begin with,” said Rose Haber, a member of the synagogue. " We are just so happy to help.”

When schools were open Haber and other members donated food to families through its Backpack Buddies program.

Barnes, Erin Olivier and Sonia Simon started the nonprofit food pantry.

Barnes and Sonia Simon have had ties to the Northwood area for the last several years and have funded weeklong stays at Camp Grace in Roberta, Georgia, for children from the community since 2015, Barnes said. When schools closed in March, the women knew there would be an immediate need for food, Barnes said.

Restaurant owner, Jason Sheetz, gave them the keys to his establishment, Under the Cork Tree, located at the Prado shopping center, to create a temporary pantry space. The women moved it to the small shopping center on Northwood Drive in early June. That structure will be demolished soon to make way for a new building in which the developer will donate space for the pantry, Barnes said. In the meantime, the pantry will set up at the former Publix at The Prado starting Tuesday.

The women who manage the pantry said the service has brought them joy during these troubled times of the pandemic.

“We call it, ‘love in action,‘” Anderson said. “We say we’re giving out ‘food, hope and love.‘”

The families served are giving back too. Several children volunteer at the pantry and families have made small monetary donations that totaled more than $4,000, Anderson said.

“I’ve never seen (this kind of thing) before,” a surprised Anderson added. “The families that we are serving actually put money in a basket and say here’s $5 for your organization. And that made us cry.”