There stands a tall oak tree at the intersection of Herring Road, Brannen Boulevard and Gray Industrial Parkway in Grayson. Behind it is a large warehouse on a gravel parking lot that houses the Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry, one of six non-profit food co-ops in Gwinnett County.
Inside the building are freezers of different meats and fish, coolers of dairy products including milk, butter, cheese and eggs and hundreds of crates stocked with canned goods and cartons of dried food. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of volunteers pre-packaging food and toiletries into boxes to be given out is LaShawn Alford who is the pantry manager and plans and orders all the food from the Atlanta Food Bank and Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The Co-op started in 1991 under the direction of Don Ashworth. The current Executive Director is Laura Drake who, according to Assistant Director of the Co-op Dot Desjardin, is the “spiritual heart of the Co-op.” “She reminds families that they are not forgotten nor forsaken,” said Desjardin.
“It was a God thing to continue to serve through the pandemic,” said Drake who explained that the Atlanta Food Bank was in the process of moving and so scaled down a lot of its supplies, making food scarce and the Co-op’s volunteer force was gone.
“I don’t believe any of the Co-ops had a disruption in service though,” Drake said.
Every Monday the Co-op receives 20,000 pounds of food for the week from the Atlanta Food Bank. The National Guard helps distribute the food, pack it and it helps with traffic control. Some days the Co-op partners with local restaurants and provides warm meals to its clients.
On Wednesdays, Hank Reid, renowned Chef in the area, provides to-go lunches for the families and staff.
“What Hank is doing compliments what we’re doing,” said Drake.
Drake also said that the Animal Alliance of Georgia provides them with dog and cat food and that they receive donations of books for the kids of the families. Games take place on the front lawn for the kids while the parents pick up the groceries.
Families can come twice a month to get what they need. They must bring a picture ID and a current piece of mail received at their residence from the last 30 days.
“We even provide the clients with self-addressed stamped envelopes if they don’t have any mail to offer,” said Drake. “Our goal is to serve you but you have to have certain things.”
Linzi Jordstat who works for the Gwinnett County Government in Community Services has arranged the Georgia Grown to Go program which partners with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia farmers to provide the Co-op with fresh produce. Last month they did $80,000 in sales to farmers.
“The Georgia Grown to Go program is a great initiative to eliminate the middle man,” said Jordstat.
On any given day, the Co-op receives peaches, cucumbers, Vidalia onions, cantaloupe and other fruits and vegetables from these farmers.
“It’s an initiative which allows us to give more to our families,” said Drake.
The Co-op is open on Mondays from 5pm to 7:30pm, and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am to 12pm.
There are five other food cooperative ministries that service various parts of Gwinnett County.
The North Gwinnett Co-op serves Buford, Sugar Hill, Suwanee and the Gwinnett portions of Auburn, Braselton and Hoschton. During the past months of March and April the Co-op distributed more food than it did in all of 2019.
According to Kim Phillips, Executive Director of the Co-op, they gave out 290,000 pounds of food so far this year in comparison to 170,000 pounds of food given out in 2019. And the Co-op has supplied $240,000 of financial assistance for this year so far. They serve about 250 families per week.
“We continue to still need food, school supplies for kids and new book bags,” said Phillips.
Phillips referred to a black woman named Loletta who is one of their best success stories. She came to the Co-op in pretty bad shape, living out of her car. Now she has a stable lifestyle and a home church which she couldn’t have done without the Co-op’s help.
“We want to be a hand-up for people and not a hand-out,” said Phillips. “It’s a collaborative of people in the community that makes this work.”
Since 1991, the Co-op has served over one million pounds of food and over 100,000 people. Besides food, they also offer clothing at their thrift store and medication and utilities assistance.
“Medication assistance is one of our biggest services. We have a large aging population and our seniors are making decisions whether to take medication or eat. So we want to remove those barriers so they can eat and take their medication,” said Phillips.
Recently the Co-op got a new building and increased their available space from 6,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet. Phillips explained that they needed more space to stock food for the growing number of families who have come to depend on their help. Generally, a family leaves with 55 pounds of food every time they come in so the pantry gets thinned out pretty quickly.
The Co-op also offers tutoring to the kids of the families it serves and provides free meals every Thanksgiving and Christmas to its families. It also partners with the Good Samaritan Clinic of Gwinnett, a ministry that serves the uninsured, by referring its clients there and helping them pay for services and medications. But currently, the clinic is closed so they can focus their energies on feeding the community. It also has an End Summer Hunger program for kids who depend on their schools to feed them. But since the schools closed due to CoVid 19 precautions, the kids have turned to the Co-op for their meals. End Summer Hunger accepts funds from donors so they can buy fresh produce and meat for the children.
No appointment is needed for pickup services and families can come to the drive-thru system twice per month with a photo ID and a current utility bill. The hours of operation are Mondays from 6pm to 8pm, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 1pm and Saturdays from 12pm to 2pm.
The Lilburn Co-op serves residents from Lilburn, Stone Mountain and the Gwinnett portion of Tucker. It was founded in 1994. Its ongoing needs are for clothing, toys and other household items to sell in its thrift store called the Lily’s Cloak Thrift Store. Lily’s Cloak is more like a consignment store, except with thrift store prices. Proceeds from Lily’s Cloak sales go directly to help local families in need.
So far it has had a school supply drive, hosted a golf tournament at the Stone Mountain Golf Club to benefit the Co-op, has an Annual Stamp Out Hunger campaign and offers a single parent support group where child care is provided. Sharon Foster, the Co-op’s Executive Director said at the peak of the coronavirus crisis they were serving 525 families per week with food being given out twice a month to each family. Now they are serving 75 to 100 families per week.
“Our current need is for school supplies for children in grades K-12 and we can always use more money,” said Foster.
Their hours for clients are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 1:30pm.
The Lawrenceville Co-op started in 1995 and serves people in need in the Lawrenceville and Dacula areas.
Former Co-op Director Linda Freund said they help people with food, utility bills, medication and homeless families with children get out of their cars and into hotels. The biggest need has been homelessness with individuals and families with kids.
“Food is not as big of a need because of the food stamp program offered by the government,” said Freund.
“But there has been an increased number of homeless in the Gwinnett, Fulton and Chatham counties,” she said.
Freund continued, “We need prayer the most.”
“Treating people with dignity and love in the name of Jesus is what we’re all about,” said Freund. “If you have a servant’s heart, we’d love to have you as a volunteer.”
This Co-op doesn’t have a refrigerator nor freezer so they offer dried goods only from their pantry along with personal items and take the stuff to the drive-up cars.
It’s all on a first come, first serve basis. When someone comes in, they are greeted and given a form to fill out. Then they are sent to an interview where their income and need are determined. They are verified that they qualify for the free food and are given a choice of the food they want.
Hours of operation are: Mondays from 5pm to 7:30pm; Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am to 12pm.
The Duluth Co-op, also known as the Hands of Christ Duluth Cooperative Ministry, serves residents of the zip codes of 30096 and 30097.
All requests for food have to be made by appointment on their website. Clients must show an ID and a recent bill showing proof of residency in the 30096/97 zip cod during the time of pickup.
According to Executive Director Margy McLynn the Co-op served four times more clients in 2020 so far than what they did in January thru May of 2019. In June 2020 it has lessened but it’s running twice as much than it normally would.
“We’re anticipating it will pick up as well in the summer months of July and August,” said McLynn.
Some recent improvements to the Co-op are a newly opened Community Room and Education Center, a job board (averaging 50 plus up-to-date local job openings), budgeting and money management classes and a Christmas shop where parents can find gifts for their children.
The Co-op is open for pickup on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm.
The Norcross Co-op has been renamed the Neighborhood Cooperative Ministry because it serves a broader area than just Norcross, including Peachtree Corners, the Gwinnett side of Tucker and Doraville. It is the oldest Co-op in Gwinnett County and has been in operation since 1989.
Recently it opened up a new building for multiple activities besides just their pantry area which includes meetings, health fairs to help with health screenings and educational opportunities.
“We are very excited about this new building and the opportunities it provides us to better serve our community,” said Shirley Cabe, Executive Director of the Co-op.
“Some people are here for food, clothing, financial assistance and job assistance. We also assist our clients with Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps,” Cabe added.
The Co-op serves as many as 80 or 90 families in one day. They must bring an ID, their current lease and a utility bill for help with rent and utilities. The Co-op experienced a 500 percent increase of new families the first weeks of the pandemic. Since then the numbers have dwindled somewhat.
The Co-op serves mostly personal care items and non-perishable food staples. They don’t give out fresh or frozen food because they don’t have the space to store it.
According to Cabe, the Co-op does more financial assistance than food giving.
“We wanted to keep families in their homes. The other Co-ops do more with food,” said Cabe.
Their hours of operation are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm, Saturdays from 10am to 12pm and Tuesday nights from 6pm to 8pm. They are closed on Thursdays.
Southest Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry
55 Grayson Industrial Parkway
Grayson, GA 30017
North Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry
4395 Commerce Drive
Buford, GA 30518
Lilburn Cooperative Ministry
5329 Five Forks Trickum Road
Lilburn, GA 30047
Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry
52 Gwinnett Drive/ Suite 3
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
Duluth Cooperative Ministry
3395 Fox Street, NW
Duluth, GA 30096
Norcross Cooperative Ministry
500 Pinnacle Court/ Suite 510
Norcross, GA 30071
770-263-0013 or 770-263-8268