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United Way helps feed hungry families

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ATLANTA -

Food is tight in thousands of metro Atlanta homes. In the last year, the United Way's 211 helpline received about 30,000 calls from local people asking for help buying food.

Ebony Sturdivant says what she found in the basement of a Grant Park church has become a lifeline.

"I was looking on United Way for a food pantry because I'd fallen on hard times with my family," Sturdivant said.

That was two years ago.  Both Ebony and her husband had been laid off from their jobs and they had four children to feed.

"I came across a food co-operative. I didn't know what that was.  And so when I checked, I'd seen that it was in my area," said Sturdivant.

It was the Georgia Avenue Community Ministry Food Co-op, one of about 600 co-ops and food pantries helping North Georgia families keep food on the table.

"I could save, from what I get in the boxes because of my family size, I'm saving $200-300 a month just getting the boxes from here," said Sturdivant.

Co-op members like Brenda Thomas pay $4 a visit and pick up their food box every other week.

"It helps for me because one week I get paid, and the next week I don't have any groceries or whatever else, so it kind of works," said Thomas.

Thomas, who cooks for her elderly diabetic mother and two brothers, says each box of food helps stretch the food they have.

"Oh, it balances very good, because sometimes if you don't, if you've got some meat at home, you might not have a vegetable to go with it. Come to the coop, you get a vegetable," Thomas said.

Georgia Avenue Community Ministry now has six food co-ops with a total of about 300 members. Executive director Chad Hale says the members pick what food to buy, dividing it between families.

"And there's kind of a conversation that goes on about what do we want to order," Hale said.
   
In the summer, the co-op buys from local organic farmers, making fresh, locally-grown produce affordable for members. Hale says they whole idea is to help each other eat well, even when money is tight.

"For me, it starts with that basic call to love your neighbor as yourself.  And if you think about what you need, and you will that for your neighbor as well. You want to be healthy, you want your children to be healthy, and your grandchildren to be healthy," Hale said.

"We're all here for a need.  The food is for our nourishment.  The faith is for our souls," said Sturdivant.

The Georgia Avenue Food Co-op has a waiting list. If you need help now with food, the United Way says call its 211 helpline. They'll ask for your zip code and they'll help you find several food assistance programs in your area.    

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