CLINE: No need to throw stones at church over gridlock

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last week, prompted by the story of a local soldier returning home from Afghanistan to spend Christmas with his family, I wrote about the good feelings of the season. My take was that we're all looking for the good in others and prone to act better than usual this time of the year. I also anticipated that feeling dissipating once the new year rolled in. I should have added "or bad mall traffic -- whichever comes first."

This week the talk of the county is Mallmageddon, the monstrous traffic jam that snarled the roads surrounding the Mall of Georgia on Saturday. It was epic, frustrating and in some cases anger-inducing. That so much anger, sometimes downright venomous in posts on the Daily Post website and on social media, was directed at 12Stone Church is disconcerting.

The church recognizes its program to feed 6,000 needy families contributed greatly to the clogged roads. With the distribution point being Coolray Field, located just down the road from the mall, it's silly to argue otherwise. But it's just as silly to lambast 12Stone for a productive program that exceeded all expectations -- a promotion that went viral like some kind of YouTube singing cat video.

"We're not surprised people were frustrated. We were too," said 12Stone Chief Financial Officer Norwood Davis, adding that part of the problem stemmed from an email detailing the event that got passed around, taking on a life of its own. "We're not dismissive of that.

"What people might not know is that we did this last year and we didn't have these same kind of issues. We worked on a traffic plan (for this event) for a month."

His point is that there was nothing haphazard about the planning of Saturday's event. But some criticized the church in a way that suggested it was some sort of sinister plot, designed to impede shoppers and other Saturday drivers from their pursuits. Obviously, that couldn't be further from the truth, and the organizers are sorry for what happened.

Davis took to posting on the Daily Post website as a way to apologize for the church's role in the traffic nightmare. He said 12Stone is open to suggestions on how to improve next year's event, and said that of the 50 or so comments that have been sent to the church, the majority have been nice and/or included ways to improve the event. Only "six or seven were really negative," he said.

"Most of them are of the tone 'We appreciate you doing this, but here's some things we might suggest,'" Davis said. "As people give us constructive criticism, we welcome those."

Constructive criticism is one thing, nastiness quite another. I can only imagine the frustration of sitting in traffic for up to three hours to move only several miles. (Full disclosure: I needed to go to the mall on Saturday but blew it off. In this case, the better part of valor was laziness.) Posters wrote of missing family get-togethers, appointments and even funerals. And 12Stoners weren't immune. Davis said his wife missed an out-of-town wedding due to the gridlock.

I've heard many horror stories firsthand. A boss who got stuck trying to get home. A co-worker who couldn't get back from the airport. When I went to the mall on Sunday, store employees spoke of shoppers staying because they couldn't get out of the parking lot, creating people traffic inside the mall that rivaled the car traffic outside. Those who work in and around the mall were also adversely affected, not able to get to their jobs on time.

In short, it was a mess. One of huge proportions.

But to accuse the church of being some sort of Grinch-like entity for trying to feed the needy for Christmas seems more than a little misplaced. Not to mention out of step with the season.

In my opinion, 12Stone has handled the aftermath of the Great Traffic Standstill of 2011 with aplomb. The organizers are sorry and vow to take precautions to prevent it from happening again. They've taken their lumps, listened to ways to improve and rejoiced for being able to fulfill their mission.

With Christmas a few days away, seems like a good lesson to me.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.