The community of East Point, Georgia has shown just what can be accomplished when folks come together to help one another. When the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting this small city just south of Atlanta, East Point leaders wasted no time in setting an agenda and taking action. Community members quickly determined that their core priority was to preserve residents’ health, and the city developed a wellness campaign focused on food access and distribution.
East Point leaders took several paths to combat food insecurity. The city teamed up with the local food collaborative, Food Well Alliance, and the community farm, Metro Atlanta Urban Farms, to create a “Bucket Brigade.” Representatives from the three organizing groups helped to assemble 150 bucket gardens; each garden included three separately prepared buckets pre-planted with tomato, pepper and basil plants. The trio-bucket gardens were delivered to families in need by members of the East Point Parks and Recreation Department and the East Point City Council, including Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham.
City Council members, Karen Reńe and Thomas Calloway, and employees from the Parks and Recreation Department also organized a meal box program with the help of local churches and food banks. The group assembled 100 pre-packaged meal boxes, containing household staples such as milk, eggs and fresh produce. They distributed the boxes to several local churches along with a senior center and preschool – and they were all gone in under a half-hour. Rev. Michael Stinson, the pastor at East Point First Mallalieu United Methodist Church, told Atlanta’s 11Alive: “It’s about everybody chipping in. At times like this, we need to take down the barriers, take down the wall and just help each other. We are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. We are neighbors. We’re in this together.”
First Mallalieu was also one of the participating churches giving away $25 gift cards organized by Wholesome Wave Georgia, in association with the Weight Watchers Foundation and the National Wholesome Wave organization. The gift cards can be used to purchase produce at Walmart.
Wholesome Wave Georgia is a nonprofit that helps over 1-million food-insecure families across the state. Their programs include providing additional purchasing power for SNAP cards at farmers’ markets. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the number of families turning to Wholesome Wave Georgia for SNAP assistance. For comparison, in 2019 they helped a total of 150 families; and in the first four months of 2020 alone they have assisted 150 families.
Gilliam’s Community Farm also recognized the need to expand their offering of community programs during the pandemic. The farm, located in nearby Oakland City, is a regular at East Point’s Farmer’s Market, where they serve lower-income and senior communities. Once “sheltering-in-place” started, Gilliam’s brought free bags of produce to neighborhoods plagued by food insecurity. The farm also teamed up with East Point City Councilman Lance Robertson to create a crowd-source-funded program that pays community farmers to harvest the crops necessary for Gilliam’s deliveries.
All of these programs highlight the good that happens when local communities wrap their arms around their own.