LAWRENCEVILLE - As the Israelites wandered in the desert after escaping slavery, the Bible says they prayed for food and God delivered manna from heaven.
Daily, Laura Drake prays for manna for heaven, so she and volunteers at the Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry can feed the hungry in Snellville, Grayson and Loganville.
"The need is just so incredible," Drake said, adding that the group ran out of green beans - usually the most abundant canned food - a few weeks ago. "Every day before we open up, we have people waiting in line. ... But (God) always makes a way for us. ... We haven't had to turn anyone away."
The six cooperative ministries in Gwinnett have all struggled this summer, people have said. In some cases, donations have declined. But for the most part, the situation isn't a matter of dwindling supplies but of increasing demand, as more people struggle with unemployment and the impacts of the economic recession.
"The number of our neighbors in need is growing, and the body of Christ will respond to meet the need," said Linda Freund of the Lawrenceville Co-Op, which had a record-setting August, helping nearly 1,200 households by distributing 49,063 cans of food and $43,000 in financial assistance. "We are the hands of our Lord Jesus as we feed others in His name."
Much of the food, Freund said, had to be purchased because donations are down.
The Norcross Co-op is experiencing a similar problem, Shirley Cabe said.
"We're spending hundreds of dollars on food each day, just to get us to the next shift," she said of the organization that sees 200 new families seeking aid each month. In August, the group served a total of 1,200 families. "We don't know how long that (money) will last."
At the Lilburn Co-op, Kay Whithear said food isn't as big a challenge as money.
Local churches once provided much of the cash to help people make ends meet, but because of the economy, many of those churches no longer have money to spare.
"Financial help is the huge need, to try to keep people with a roof over their heads or their utilities kept on," Whithear said.
That organization helped 800 families last month, which is 100 more than the month prior.
The organizations have come up with some creative ideas to get the donations coming in.
In Snellville, the Weight Watchers business is encouraging clients to donate a pound of food for every pound they lose to the Southeast Gwinnett Co-Op.
There, Drake said, 591 people were given 28,000 cans of food in August.
In Suwanee, a doctor at Gwinnett Urgent Care, came up with a promotion called "Starve a Cold, Feed the Hungry," to give free flu shots to people who donate five cans of food to the North Gwinnett Co-op.
This month, that organization ran out of its monthly budget for financial assistance Sept. 2.
"This is a tough time for us," Director Maureen Kornowa said. "We seem to just be getting by."
There, an average of 40 new families come in for assistance each month, adding to the average of 270 families each month served on a rotating basis.
Despite the struggles, many of the co-op volunteers and leaders are hopeful, especially as the school year begins and the impending holidays often help to put food ministries back into the minds of the community.
Mary Roberts said an upcoming food drive with Perimeter Church is likely to replenish the shelves at the Hands of Christ-Duluth Co-Operative Ministry.
"We don't want anybody to go without food," Roberts said, adding she worries about financial donations during the winter months, when people could lose their heat without help.
Many of the county's unemployed, she said, are on food stamps or unemployment benefits, but there is waiting period before they receive help.
"People are just hurting," she said. "They need us."
SideBar: At a glance
Hands of Christ - Duluth Cooperative Ministry
· 3395 Fox St., Building 101, Duluth
· Office number (for donations) 770-232-7454
· Client number (for assistance) 770-623-9563
· Donations accepted Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
· Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1974, Duluth, 30096
Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry
· 176 Church St., Lawrenceville
· Preferred donation time is 9 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
· Donations also accepted 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to noon. Saturdays
· Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1328, Lawrenceville, 30046
Lilburn Cooperative Ministry
· 5329 Five Forks Trickum Road, Lilburn
· Donations accepted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. any day except Sundays
· Monetary donations can be made at www.lilburncoop.org
Norcross Cooperative Ministry
· 2275 Mitchell Road, Norcross
· Donations are accepted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays
· Financial donations can be made at norcrossco-op.org
North Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry
· 70 Wiley Drive, Buford
· Food donations can be made from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Fridays
· Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 672, Buford, 30518
Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry
· 1200 Athens Highway, Grayson (located behind Community of Grace Church)
· Food donations can be made from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays or during regular business hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays or 3 to
7 p.m. Thursdays. Donations can also be dropped off at Snellville United Methodist Church
· Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1521, Snellville, 30078