GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia's food insecurity gap has expanded with families who have children especially experiencing hardships.
When the need for food for families grows, so does the demand for food banks.
Over the past year, the North Gwinnett Co-op has welcomed carload after carload of clients to their food pantry.
"Our lines were a little more than 2 miles long," North Gwinnett Co-op's Kim Phillips said.
The organization, a collaboration of church, business, and civic partners, has doubled the number of people they help while tripling the amount of household food and hygiene items they provide.
In 2019, the co-op saw 177,000 pounds of food distributed. The next year, those numbers increased to just shy of 545,000 pounds of food poured into the community.
The work went from putting food in the fridge for 17,000 clients to more than 33,000.
"Forty-three percent of the people who came to us last year had never been to us before," Phillips said.
The COVID-19 health crisis has put even more pressure on already food-insecure families in north Georgia.
"I have a lot of people who lost jobs that need food," Fulton County resident Ushima Ploughman told FOX 5.
Heads of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, part of a national hunger-relief charity, say the demand is up along with uncertainty.
"We're distributing about 65% more food now than we were before all this," ACFB President and CEO Kyle Waide said.
In fact, according to the state's Division of Family and Children's Services, all of Georgia's food banks have experienced at least a 50% increase in demand for food.
Many eligible households with children need more food support due to school and childcare closures, remote learning, and household job losses.
Local school districts are trying to bridge the gap with pop-up meal sites, but the struggle is still here.
"TI think the biggest challenge is that we continue to get enough food to provide to folks and enough money to sustain our efforts," Waide said.
As more people in the metro Atlanta area look for food options during the pandemic, the ACFB has created a way to find services.
Residents can text "FINDFOOD" (or "COMIDA" for Spanish) to the number 888-976-2232 and enter their zip code after being prompted. They'll then get a list of open food pantries that are closest to them.
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