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Everyday Heroes: Liz Platner and Barbara Hardin

A growing number of metro Atlanta families are taking steps to help feed their hungry neighbors, and some are doing so without leaving home.

They’ve signed on to be donors or volunteers with their local PORCH, a concept developed by three North Carolina women during the last major recession over a decade ago.

PORCH (People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill) has been replicated in over 30 cities in nine states, including Marietta and Decatur in Georgia.

Pike County in Middle Georgia recently set up Georgia’s third PORCH chapter and follows the Chapel Hill model. Volunteers determine their community food banks’ most significant needs each month. They reach out to their neighbors for help and then collect donors’ nonperishables on their front porches for disbursement to food banks.

FILE: Liz Platner of the all-volunteer Porch Marietta, an organization that helps with food & snack for the needy school kids, at Sedalia Park Elementary School in Marietta. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Credit: Phil Skinner

Liz Platner, founder of Porch Marietta, said the program works because it’s easier for donors and volunteers.

“Anyone from kids to seniors can help with just a small monthly time commitment,” she said.

It’s consistent: there’s a regular schedule for donors and food pantries. It’s flexible: pantries can request specific food items they need each month. And there’s little personal data required of the people who receive free food from the food banks, Platner said.

“That’s especially important as people are increasingly wary of sharing their data,” she said.

The porch program in Marietta has exploded since the two PORCHs were spotlighted in March in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Inspire Atlanta feature.

PORCH Marietta started the year helping food pantries at Brumby Elementary and the Center for Family Resources and has expanded to help fill the shelves at Lockheed Elementary’s food pantry. Platner said the all-volunteer organization also helped start a food pantry at Sawyer Road Elementary in Marietta City Schools.

That’s caused the nonprofit to broaden the reach of the monthly food drives to all zip codes across Marietta.

Platner said PORCH Marietta was very successful in its fundraising this year and can now provide fresh milk and eggs twice a month for the Center for Family Resources.

But the need for help just keeps growing, as do the calls for help from other food pantries, she said.

“At this time, we’re working at capacity and can’t expand to serve other food pantries,” Platner said, “but the calls show that there are unmet needs in our community.”

Barbara Hardin, founder of PORCH Decatur. She started a chapter of the non-profit founded in North Carolina after s the first PORCH community in Georgia, started after I hearing about it through a connection to Chapel Hill as a University of North Carolina alumna

Credit: Photo courtesy of Barbara Harrdin

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Barbara Harrdin

At PORCH Decatur, volunteers saw a drop in donations at mid-year, but they remain committed and enthusiastic despite inflation challenges, founder Barbara Hardin said.

She said the last food drives of the year helped considerably. PORCH Decatur collected $29,540 worth of donated food in 2023, which is within $1,000 of its 2022 totals.

This year brought new struggles with food budgets for the needy and PORCH donors, Hardin said.

“It seems grocery prices have touched us all,” she said. “We know that if we feel the pinch at the grocery store, those we serve must feel it more acutely. But our determined donors are getting wily about finding deals.”

PORCH Decatur – the state’s first PORCH chapter -- distributes food to organizations that help those with food insecurity: DEAM ( Decatur Emergency Assistance Ministry); Church of the Common Ground, an Episcopal outreach to unhoused people in downtown Atlanta; The Sack Lunch program at Holy Trinity, providing emergency lunches weekly; Casa Alterna, a short-term residence for displaced refugees and immigrants; Free 99 Fridge, a self-serve source of fresh and frozen foods as well as nonperishable items; and Camp Peace, a summer program for food-insecure teens, she said.

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