Local co-ops preparing for holiday season

LAWRENCEVILLE - Food is a hot commodity in Gwinnett County as local pantries prepare to provide holiday meals for needy families in the county.

As the holidays approach, food pantries, such as the Lilburn Cooperative, are gathering food donations and grocery store gift cards to give to needy families seeking holiday help.

Kay Whithear, executive director of the Lilburn Cooperative, said her location will be making Thanksgiving gift baskets, containing everything a family in the Lilburn or Snellville area may need to prepare a holiday meal.

"We expect to have about 400 families who we'll help this holiday, maybe a bit more," she said.

She added that although the need is great, she expects to have plenty of food to give out for Thanksgiving, although she said donations are always accepted and needed.

The Lilburn Cooperative volunteers will begin giving out the baskets early this week, Whithear said, while they also continue to gather food and gifts for Christmas.

"We haven't had a lot of gifts come in yet. Most people don't think of Christmas giving until after Thanksgiving," Whithear said. "Our biggest need is always gifts for teenagers."

Bill Barker, pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Dacula, said his church's food ministry, Bread of Life, has also begun collecting food for families in the Dacula area who are of low or no income.

"We gave out $40 million worth of food last year," he said. "We've never run out of food in years past, and we don't plan to this year."

The pastor said church volunteers would be giving out baskets of food for families so they can prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Volunteers will hand out food to a projected 300 families this week.

"We don't turn anyone away," he said. "We ask for a $10 donation, but if they don't have it we'll help them anyway."

Shirley Cabe, director of the Norcross Cooperative, said their food pantry is open year round like many of the other food pantries in Gwinnett County, and anyone in need may stop by for basic food items such as cereal, pasta and juice.

"Sometimes during the holidays someone will donate hams or turkeys for the pantry," she said. "But we can't guarantee one for everyone that comes in."

She added that Norcross' need is so large around Christmas time that they spend most of their time preparing for Christmas food and gift giving.

The cooperative has already begun stocking its basement with new, unwrapped gifts and toys to give to needy families this Christmas, as well as collecting monetary donations to purchase food and clothing.

Cabe said families in Norcross can continue to sign up for Christmas help by contacting the cooperative. She added that they expect to help close to 1,400 families, nearly 4,000 children, this Christmas.

Volunteers feed

foster children

Needy children in Gwinnett County are not going unnoticed this Thanksgiving. Volunteers from Primerica and various Citigroup subsidiaries near Gwinnett County served a holiday meal to Gwinnett foster children as part of the company's global volunteer day Saturday.

The company volunteers served a "Pasta-bilities" meal to more than 100 foster children and their foster families, part of the Foster Children's Foundation Inc., in Duluth.

"This is for the children, but also to thank the foster parents for all they do," said Suzanne Geske, executive director and founder of the Foster Children's Foundation. "We also want the youth to experience what it is to give and to be thankful for what they have."

Anne Soutter, vice president, community and foundation relations for Primerica and event manager for the meal, said the company also plans to provide a $10,000 grant for the Foster Children's Foundation's mentor program.

"We wanted to do this," Soutter said. "We want to help the kids."

Geske said a Christmas party is also in the works for the foster children, where they will be able to have a meal, listen to music, receive gift bags and have a chance to pick out a holiday gift for their foster parent.

"We'll have a breakfast with Santa for the younger group," she said. "And a similar party for the teens. We're very excited about doing this."