Atlanta Hawks help bring grocery giveaway to Hispanic community

Community leaders say Latino households are still reeling from cost of living increases, food insecurity.
Drivers line up on Buford Highway to pick up free groceries at the Latin American Association on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Drivers line up on Buford Highway to pick up free groceries at the Latin American Association on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Around midday on Saturday, a line of dozens of cars stretched along Buford Highway.

Drivers were waiting for a turn to pick up free groceries at a giveaway at the Latin American Association in Brookhaven. This was the latest in a series of recurring events hosted by the Hispanic serving nonprofit since the start of the pandemic to alleviate food insecurity in the community.

“The demand for food is totally there,” said Santiago Marquez, the LAA’s CEO. “We tend to serve the working poor. A good chunk of these folks have jobs. But they’re using our food pantries to subsidize their grocery bill, their grocery shopping … What I’ve told my staff is we have no idea what people are going through, you know, the circumstances that they’re under.”

The community’s need for food assistance was clear to see on Saturday.

Scheduled to run from noon to 2 p.m., volunteers began telling community members there was no food left at around 12:30. Organizers’ plan at the beginning of the day was to serve as least 150 families.

“We had assumed that as the pandemic was ending, the demand for food would go down, right? Actually, it’s gone up. And we believe that’s attributed to the inflation that hit right away. We know it’s coming down, but the prices are still high,” Marquez said.

Elena Candelero, an immigrant from Mexico, came to Atlanta roughly two years ago, after pandemic-related disruptions impacted her job back home. She arrived at the LAA to pick up food at 8 a.m., having walked roughly 30 minutes from her home because she doesn’t have a car. When she arrived, she was told to come back later, since the giveaway wasn’t set to start until midday. By the time she came back, she said, most of the food had gone. She started the walk back home with a bag of stray carrots and sweet potatoes.

“It’s a really desperate time right now,” Candelero told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Spanish.

Having recently been laid off from her dishwashing job at an area kitchen, where she earned $13 per hour, Candelero has had to cut back on her food intake, relying mostly on rice and pasta.

“No meat, no milk, no dairy, none of that,” she said, adding that she had been instructed to come back to the LAA on Monday, to pick up some food then.

Greeting the drivers as they pulled into the LAA parking lot on Saturday was a DJ playing reggaeton hits and a pom-pom-wielding Atlanta Hawks dancer.

The Hawks were involved in orchestrating the food giveaway alongside the LAA and CareSource, an insurer and Medicaid provider, which set up a tent where attendees could get blood pressure checks, among other resources.

“I think that the turnout today highlights that we’re in the right place at the right time. It also highlights that there is a massive food insecurity challenge within our community. And unfortunately, one organization or two organizations are not going to solve it, but we believe we can support the community in their immediate needs today in giving them food,” said Alexis Roe, vice-president of diversity, equity and inclusion and strategic initiatives at the Atlanta Hawks.

On March 10, the Hawks will be hosting a Hispanic Heritage Night to “celebrate the rich culture of NBA fans and players across Latin American and Hispanic communities.” The highlight will be a half-time performance by Puerto Rican performer Lunay.

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