It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday and families are already lined up, waiting in their cars for the box of food that will help get them through the week.

Some pajama-clad children are still asleep in their parents’ back seats. Other people have their dogs to keep them company as they wait more than two hours for the food distribution to begin.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from. If they’re hungry, Laurie Wong and her team of volunteers at Reflections of Trinity are there to help.

In Powder Springs, Wong’s relatively small nonprofit packs a mighty punch. Between their weekend food distribution, meal deliveries to senior communities and outreach programs for Title I students, the nonprofit helps feed more than 1,200 families a week.

Wong started Reflections of Trinity in 1999 to help families in crisis — women fleeing domestic violence or parents who were out of work. Fast forward 23 years and a growing number of metro Atlanta families face food insecurity amid rising inflation and housing costs.

Each Saturday, Wong and her volunteers show up early to pack boxes with fresh produce, bread, meat, cheese, bottled water, snacks and dry goods. There’s kibble and dog treats for the loyal companions who come with their owners and baby formula for parents with young children.

“I know that we are called to this,” Wong said, noting some food pantries are only open during the week. “We serve the working poor, and most of them can’t get to a food pantry on Tuesday at 2 p.m.”

ExploreHow to help

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Prior to the pandemic, Wong said Reflections of Trinity distributed food to about 500 families a week. In the spring of 2020, that figure more than doubled and the demand hasn’t slowed.

“Even though business owners in the United States have endeavored to pay people more, prices have gone up faster than the wages have,” she said.

So each Saturday, Wong turns her parking lot into what she calls a “three-lane highway” as volunteers load up one box of food at a time. Families are instructed to wait their turn in a church parking lot about a quarter-mile away so they don’t back up traffic along Austell Powder Springs Road.

Volunteer Cindy Neal has come just about every Saturday for almost 11 years. Carrying her walkie-talkie, the jovial 57-year-old greets each person who pulls into the parking lot, greeting many by name.

“I don’t even go to church any more. This is my church. This is my motivation. It’s the highlight of my week,” Neal said. “They need it. There’s people who would never come to a pantry who are coming now because of the price of food.”

Most clients come from Cobb, Douglas and Paulding counties. But at last count, the nonprofit helped feed people from 32 counties across North Georgia.

“It doesn’t matter to us,” Wong said, as she drove her pickup truck from the warehouse to the hundreds of people lined up outside the nearby church. “If you’re in need, we’re here to serve you.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Among the volunteers was Rachel Barahona, a dental assistant who helped pack boxes before the distribution began at 8:30 a.m.

“The first time I came, I was shocked to see how many families showed up,” Barahona said. “That just made me realize there are lot of people out here who could use the help.”

Also volunteering were Alexander Shannon and several young men from nearby Tapp Middle School, where he teaches sixth grade science.

“We’re here for the investment in people,” said Shannon, who has encouraged students to help out at the weekly event for more than a decade. “There are people from this neighborhood — people from this community — who are food insecure and some students didn’t realize it. So week after week, we’ve come back because of that.”

In recent years, Reflections of Trinity has started relying more on grants, but the nonprofit also runs a thrift store and sells donated clothes on eBay to help sustain itself. Walmart, Sam’s Club and Whole Foods are among its largest contributors, Wong said.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The nonprofit partners with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, allowing volunteers to collect perishable items from grocery stores in the network. Grants and donations also help keep things running smoothly from week to week.

“They’re just an amazing organization,” Shari Martin, president and CEO of the Cobb Community Foundation, said of Reflections of Trinity. Her organization helps connect nonprofits with donors.

“They probably distribute more food than just about anyone in Cobb County,” Martin said. “When people come through their line they make every effort to remember their names and ask how they are. They want to show love. They want to show people that someone cares about them.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

That generosity isn’t lost on Leigha Woodard, who hasn’t been able to work much since breaking her foot last year. She was one of 812 people who picked up food on a recent Saturday.

“It helps a lot,” said Woodard, who lives in Austell and has come to Reflections of Trinity the past three months. The volunteers even sent her off with a bag of treats for her dog, Bo, who sat in Woodard’s lap as she waited in the long line.

“It would be a whole lot tougher if we couldn’t come here,” she said.