(Featured photo – from left, Amy Breitmann, the executive director of the Golden Harvest Food Bank, gives Augusta Commissioner Francine Scott, Commissioner Jordan Johnson and State Sen. Harold Jones (D-Augusta) a tour of new construction at the Golden Harvest Food Bank May 4. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
Augusta Commissioner Francine Scott had a full schedule May 4, but there was one event she knew she had to get to – a roundtable at the Golden Harvest Food Bank with other community leaders.
Knowing that her constituents often skip meals because they can’t afford to pay rent, buy medications and buy food each month weighs on her mind. Seeing what the food bank does to help those struggling to put food on the table is important, she said.
“It’s just amazing the work you all do,” Scott told Amy Breitmann, the food bank’s executive director, and those gathered at the event.
It was through a similar event two years ago that Scott became aware of how deep the hunger issue is in the 25 counties the food bank serves in Georgia and South Carolina.
The pandemic coupled with inflation has seen a large increase in the demand for food assistance Breitmann and her staff said. One in eight people including one in five children in the area don’t have enough to eat.
A few weeks ago, a food pantry in Emmanuel County, Ga. had a food giveaway.
“People started lining up at 1 a.m. The giveaway started at 9 a.m.,” Breitmann said. “It’s mind blowing.”
More than 400 people received food at that event.
That pantry was serving about 100 families before the pandemic. Another pantry shut down and never reopened. Breitmann said the director called her at one point not knowing what to do. She knew she couldn’t afford to feed that many families.
Stories like that are common.
The Masters Table Soup Kitchen, operated by the food bank, serves meals daily, not even stopping a day for the pandemic. In March 2022, volunteers and staff served 4,529 meals; in March 2023, they served 5,919 meals.
Breitmann said the food bank is on track to provide 12.4 million meals this year. In 2022, the organization, through its partner agencies, supplied 11.9 million meals.
The need is likely higher. Breitmann and Brittany Burnett, the president and CEO of the United Way of the CSRA who was also in attendance, reported that their websites have been seeing higher numbers than usual of people searching out food pantries.
Breitmann said they have obstacles to feeding people such as the stigma related to food insecurity. A backpack feeding program, which supplies food for the weekend when schoolchildren aren’t at school to receive meals at school, only reaches about 3,200 students. That’s a minute percentage of those who need it.
Renovations are being made to the food bank’s Commerce Drive facility that will allow those backpacks, which are currently purchased elsewhere, to be packed in more discreet packaging in Augusta, with hopes of reaching more children. That program will require assistance from the school districts as well.
Breitmann said Publix contributes $70,000 to that program.
As they work to supply more meals, organization officials are still striving to close a nearly 9 million meal gap that exists in the area.
After presenting their statistics and information on how they are working to bridge the hunger gap, food bank representatives turned the floor to the public officials gathered including Scott, State Rep. Lynn Gladney (D-Augusta), State Sen. Harold Jones (D-Augusta), State Rep. Karlton Howard (D-Augusta) and Augusta Commissioner Jordan Johnson.
“What can we do from the commission, from the state legistature? How can we assist you to accomplish your goals? The data is just astounding – one in five children,” said Johnson.
“I think this is the start of the conversation,” Breitmann said in response. “But I’ll be calling.”
The event ended with Breitmann giving the officials are tour of the facility and its warehouse.
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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