When kids are out of school for summer, co-op needs more than double
By Carole Townsend
Grayson – Laura Drake is passionate about helping her community. Get her talking about the Southeast Gwinnett Co-op, and she can hardly keep up with herself; her excitement and delight with reaching out to families, especially children, in such a tangible way is contagious.
“It’s such a blessing to love on these children, and to provide something that they need so desperately, and that’s food,” Drake said.
The six co-ops in Gwinnett County depend on community families and partnerships to answer the growing needs of families who need help. The Southeast Gwinnett Co-op alone serves about 650 families every 6 weeks, and that’s during the months when school is in session. But when summer break comes, those children who were eating lunch at school for free or at a reduced price are at home. And many homes in Gwinnett county have empty pantries and refrigerators.
Right: Volunteer Daryl Santilli and local kids
In answer to the swell of children who need food during the 10-week school summer break, Southeast Gwinnett Co-op established a program they call “Summer Manna.” The word “manna” refers to the bread that God provided to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. “That’s what we do. We provide nutritious food to these children who would otherwise go hungry in summer,” said Drake.
The need is so great that the co-op now brings the food to the children, with 5 routes that go to targeted streets in areas with the most critical need. “This summer, we will provide 15,500 lunches to children,” Drake said, adding that Chick-Fil-A gives generously in order to help do this. “Sometimes, a person will come in (to the co-op) who is really hungry, in bad shape. I remember a woman who came in. She had two children with her, and we were giving them food, but her power had been cut off, so how was she going to cook it? I called Chick-Fil-A and asked if they could feed her family right away. All the woman had to do was go over there and give them my name, and they had a meal right away. No one knew what had happened; they just got a meal that they could eat right then.”
Left: Summer Manna Bags
“By going out into the community, we build trust and give love to these children. I remember one day, when we had Chick-Fil-A sandwiches to give out to them, one little boy wouldn’t come down to get one. His sisters did, and we could tell that he wanted to, but he wouldn’t. I asked his sisters why, and they said that he only had one shoe. So I took off one of my shoes, grabbed a sandwich, and took it to him. I told him that I only had one shoe, too!” Drake laughed, saying that stories like that break her heart. The need in our community is so much greater than many can imagine.
Right: Retired principal Ann McGill, still serving kids
That’s something else that Drake is passionate about – serving people with dignity. “Whether it’s the mayor who walks in or a family in need, we treat them all the same way.” The Southeast Gwinnett Co-op, which serves zip codes 30017 (Grayson), 30078 and 30039 (Snellville), and 30052 (Loganville-Gwinnett), is bracing for the summer need. “People typically think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the winter months, as the time when the need is greatest. Actually, it’s then that people are in a giving mood, so we are usually set for those times. But in summer, we all relax a bit, vacation, and we forget that this is when the need is greatest, because children are at home more,” Drake said.
Left: Grandpa brigade serving community - (L-R) Vint Cox, Mark Doss, and Len Arthur
While nutritious foods top the list of needs that the co-op has, toilet paper, hygiene products, diapers and wipes are also desperately needed. “And we try to provide nutritious meals, so we really need fresh foods,” Drake added. For example, the co-op will give away 100 gallons of milk a week this summer. One hundred dozen eggs and 100 packages of cheese will also be needed. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also needed, since the co-op now has a refrigerator, thanks to a grant.
To learn more about how to help families in need this summer, whether by donating funds or food, visit www.segwinnettcoop.org. “For ten dollars, we can feed a child for an entire week,” Drake said. To stay informed of how the co-op’s needs may fluctuate this summer, find “Southeast Gwinnett Coop” on Facebook, and join the Group for up-to-date information.