Mobilizing to end hunger in Georgia: this holiday season and beyond
This time of year, holiday food drives are everywhere: at work, school classrooms, grocery stores, and faith communities. Perhaps you’ve chipped in and wondered how that food makes its way from the collection bin to someone’s kitchen table.
With food insecurity rates in Georgia trending higher than the national average, a problem that’s worsened amid COVID-19, there is a great need to get food into the hands of those who need it — including kids, families, and seniors — during the holiday season and beyond. HOPE Atlanta is part of Georgia’s hunger relief ecosystem, working to mobilize volunteers and secure food and other resources for people experiencing hunger across 31 counties.
At the heart of these operations are people like Denise Shackelford.
Fighting Hunger with Passion & Optimism
Denise’s official title is Hunger Coordinator for HOPE Atlanta’s hunger programs in Carroll County. But in this community, she’s earned hero status. Earlier this year, Carrollton City Schools awarded her the “Trojan Unsung Hero Award” for her dedicated work running the school system’s Smart Lunch Smart Kid program, which distributes meals for food-insecure children during summer and holiday breaks.
While she started as the Smart Lunch Smart Kid coordinator in 2018 with Action Ministries (which joined with HOPE Atlanta in 2021), she soon realized another Carroll County population had alarming food insecurity rates.
“When I first started, I realized it wasn’t just kids that were hungry. There was a subset of seniors who were hungry,” Denise said.
So, Denise rolled up her sleeves. She learned about the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program for seniors through the Atlanta Community Food Bank and took a training course to learn how to best serve seniors experiencing food insecurity. Before long, Denise was coordinating with North Point Baptist Church to deliver food boxes to 30 seniors. Seeing a greater need, she worked tirelessly to expand the program’s reach.
“Now I have up to 135 seniors. I partner with various organizations to ensure that they get food to give to their seniors,” she said.
Building a Network for Hunger Relief
With as many as one in eight Georgians facing hunger, the need can feel overwhelming. But, over the years, Denise has learned never to underestimate the power of human kindness.
“Sometimes people think that helping other people is an impossibility,” she explained. “It’s honestly just utilizing your resources and asking. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.”
Denise works on those resources daily and has amassed an army of organizations and volunteers in Carroll County to reach as many people in need as possible.
Today, groups from the University of West Georgia and more have partnered with HOPE Atlanta to expand the Smart Lunch Smart Kid program in Carroll County, keeping children fed not only during summers but over school breaks. Denise also partners North Point Baptist Church and Antioch Baptist Church to coordinate bi-monthly food pantries, distributing up to 12,000 pounds of fresh food at each event.
As both Denise’s operations and HOPE Atlanta grow, she understands that fighting hunger comes down to helping one struggling neighbor at a time. Sometimes, that even means jumping in the car and making a hand delivery.
“Yesterday, instead of going to church, I received a call from a lady at an extended stay hotel. She and her son didn’t have any food,” Denise said. “My husband and I took some food from our garage, which we have set up in a pantry format, and were able to bring her enough food.”
How You Can Help
With a footprint in 31 Georgia counties, HOPE Atlanta tailors its hunger relief programs to individual communities. Assisting this many food-insecure people takes a village — many of them.
There are plenty of opportunities for those looking to get involved in fighting hunger, beyond the annual company food drive:
- Pack meals for kids and families. Every year we supply more than 40,000 food boxes to neighbors in need, and we rely on volunteers to make this possible. Learn more.
- Serve in our Women’s Community Kitchen. Help prepare and serve warm meals to food-insecure women and children in Atlanta. Learn more.
- Shop our Amazon wish list. We always appreciate donations of food and supplies. Shop here.
- Donate. It’s one of the simplest things you can do to make a meaningful impact and join the cause to end hunger and homelessness in Georgia. Donate now.
Help Georgians experiencing hunger, this holiday season and beyond, with a tax-deductible gift to HOPE Atlanta.
Now through December 31st, your impact is doubled! Every gift to HOPE Atlanta will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $100,000. Donate today!