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Bare cupboards
Local food co-ops are in need this time of year

LAWRENCEVILLE - A bare pantry is one of the worst situations in which a food cooperative can find itself, but some local organizations that provide food to those in need are in need themselves this holiday season as record numbers of people are seeking assistance and those numbers are increasing.

In August, the North Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry found itself down to what Executive Director Maureen Kornowa described as the bare minimum. Since putting a call out for assistance, the cooperative is now in great shape, in spite of difficult economic conditions.

"We have so much food," Kornowa said. "It's going out as fast as it's coming in, but we have a steady stream coming in."

The North Gwinnett Cooperative will be serving more than 300 families for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and is holding food drives on a rotating basis.

The number of households served by the cooperative is up 71 percent from last year, and an average of just under 500 people per month take advantage of the bread and bakery items offered.

"I'm proud to say we don't turn anyone away in our district," Kornowa said. "We're thriving and thriving well due to the good people in Buford, Sugar Hill and Suwanee."

Other Gwinnett cooperatives aren't faring as well.

The Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry, which serves residents of Lawrenceville and Dacula, has seen record numbers of households seeking food assistance in the past few months. The cooperative served 891 families in August, 917 families in September and 1,116 families in October.

Prior to August, monthly averages for households seeking food ranged from 600 to 700 families.

"We are seeing so many people coming for food," said Linda Freund, the cooperative's director. "For that 1,116 (households), it was almost 48,000 cans of food that went out in that month."

The co-op served a record number of 120 people on Nov. 7.

"One-fourth to one-third of who we're seeing are brand new people who have never been to a place like this before and are coming for food," Freund said.

"We're seeing many more evictions, much more homelessness, homeless families," she added. "The needs are growing."

The Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry also provides financial assistance to those in need and will receive a $3,000 grant from the United Way Women's Legacy, which Freund said would certainly help, but with demand continuing to increase, food cooperatives will need more assistance.

"We just need to get the word out saying please remember us," Freund said. "It's an ongoing need now."

Hands of Christ, a Duluth cooperative ministry, has adequate supplies of food, but funds to assist those in need with paying for utilities, temporary housing and paying rent or mortgages are slim.

Hands of Christ serves 100 to 125 households each month in the Duluth area.

"We're still hanging in there, but unless some things change we're headed in the direction (of turning people away)," Hands of Christ's director, Mary Roberts said. "We have not seen the donations coming in like they normally do."

The Norcross Cooperative Ministry served a record number of 1,324 families in October, about a 30 percent increase over the beginning of 2008, when the co-op served an average of 900 families per month. The ministry has seen such an increase that it has now implemented a new system. As households line up for services, they are each given a number.

"Anybody that doesn't get a number, we are having to send them away," said Shirley Cabe, director of the ministry. "There's so many of them, we can't get them in the building and through the process. We just encourage them to come back the next day we're open."

The Norcross Cooperative Ministry serves residents of Norcross and Gwinnett residents who live in Tucker and Doraville and also assists homeless families throughout Gwinnett.

Cabe said the ministry received a call this past week from a company that had previously assisted with their Christmas program that will no longer be able to do so.

"If each person in Gwinnett County gave one can of food, that would be enough," said Freund, of the Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry. "Keep those who need food on your mind as you shop for groceries."

And as it appears the crowds lining up for food and financial assistance will continue to grow, Gwinnett County cooperatives are urging those who can to help those who can't.

"I encourage giving generously to all the co-ops, and remember us after the holidays," Freund said. "We need food in March as much as we do right now."