How volunteering can feed the needy & soothe the soul
The theme of this month is thankfulness, and today I am not only thankful for all that I have but also for those who devote their lives to giving back to those in need. It should come as no surprise that the pandemic has increased food insecurity across demographics. Grief, job instability, illness, and isolation have thrown many Atlantans into a state of crisis, and when you can’t find enough food to eat that makes everything far harder.
Traditionally, this time of year brings up many feelings of altruism. As we gather around our tables enjoying meals prepared by and shared with loved ones on dark, chilly evenings, the knowledge that others might not have a holiday meal or food in their cupboards is striking in contrast. Volunteering at a food bank, soup kitchen, or stocking a local free pantry are all wonderful ways to share the love with those who might not otherwise have access to healthy, fresh food.
I spoke with Tim Adkins, Director of Marketing and Communications for Hands On Atlanta about Atlanta’s hunger problem and what is being done to address it. “We can’t keep up with the need from our partners, specifically our food pantry partners,” said Adkins. Between August of 2020 and July of 2021, Hands On Atlanta has supplied more than 9,500 volunteers to support the Atlanta Community Food Bank as they distribute a whopping 8.6 million meals to 22 food pantries located throughout the city and far into the suburbs. Additionally, Hands On Atlanta’s Meals 4 Kids program and COVID-19 specific relief efforts have supplied 8,000 meals to families in that same timeframe.
“Last year we engaged about 15,000 people in service to serve approximately 130,000 hours in the community,” Adkins explained, and while Hands On Atlanta is an organization dedicated to a myriad of nonprofits in a variety of sectors, Adkins says that the pandemic has really highlighted an increased need specifically centered around food insecurity. Of those 15,000 volunteers engaged by Hands On Atlanta nearly 10,000 were focused on providing healthy meals to those in need.
Calling the issue “just staggering,” Adkins and the Hands On Atlanta team are committed to activating people, both as individuals and within the context of corporate teams, in an effort to facilitate the distribution of donations from organizations to the communities that need them.
“We really wanted to lean in,” said Adkins, who says he has seen exponential growth in the amount of food that has come into the Food Bank and then back out into the community.
While one of the biggest impacts can be seen from large companies bringing in teams of employees to volunteer their time, COVID has restricted those opportunities and today most volunteering efforts employ less than 50 people at a time. Nonprofits such as Urban Recipe and the Community Assistance Center regularly post their opportunities with Hands On Atlanta, but are typically seeking between four to six volunteers for a given activation.
Some local companies that have regularly given back through volunteering with Hands On Atlanta include Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, the Coca-Cola Company, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, United Postal Service, NCR, and the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
“Even if you couldn’t physically help, there are things you can do to be supportive like writing a letter in support of someone who may have fallen on hard times. It really does mean a lot, just having some encouragement means a lot. To really understand why, and why it matters, is to create empathy,” said Adkins. And it’s not only good for the community, giving back has benefits for the volunteer as well.
“Studies have shown that volunteering meets all of the things that the pandemic has caused: isolation, stress, feeling no sense of purpose,” Adkins continued. “It has been proven that volunteering gives you confidence, a sense of community, and a sense of purpose. There is intrinsic value as well, it’s great for the community but also for the individual.”
As we talked, Adkins shared a few local partners that he feels are making great strides in the battle against hunger. Free99Fridge.com, Second Helpings Atlanta – Assemble and Pack Food Donations, and Open Hand Atlanta are all dedicated to providing not only non-perishable and shelf-stable foods, but also fresh fruit, produce, and whole meals to those in need throughout the city.
So this year, if you find that you’ve got enough love to share, whether it be in the form of food or monetary donations or through actual physical assistance to soup kitchen, food pantries, and all of the auxiliary organizations that support the efforts to get food into the hands of those who need it, there are some truly remarkable ways you can aid in the fight against food insecurity.
Filtered results for all food insecurity related projects on Hands On Atlanta’s calendar
Volunteer with Atlanta Community Food Bank as an individual or a group
Virtual Meals on Wheels which includes projects people can do from home
Thanksgiving Dinner and Coat Giveaway with Area in Need Missionary House on November 13 and 20
The Pantry at Chapelhill Atlanta on November 20
Thanksgiving Event and Mobile Food Pantry Distribution with Streetwise on November 20
Grady Fresh Food Cart with Grady Health System in Brookhaven on November 24
Stock the Pantry with Grace Community Food Pantry on November 24
Thanksgiving Give Back with SSA, delivering nourishing meals to low-income and homebound seniors in Fulton County on November 20 (Registration required by November 15)
Giving Tuesday with Hosea Helps, this annual Thanksgiving drive-through event at the Georgia World Congress Center Blue Parking Lot seeks volunteers age 12+ to fill 10 shifts on November 19
Volunteer with the Atlanta Mission, serve meals to men residing at The Shepherd’s Inn or the women and children at My Sister’s House, many dates available
Originally written for Homestead Stories