When it rains, it pours. No one knows that better than Kim Phillips, executive director of the North Gwinnett Co-op in Buford.
Phillips has known the figurative side of that phrase since the COVID-19 crisis struck in March. This week she experienced the literal side of it when the skies opened with a torrential downpour jus as the co-op’s annual Book Bag Bash was ready to start.
The back-to-school event is eagerly anticipated each year by students in the area, and traditionally it combines a party with a chance to select a book bag for the upcoming school year. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was made into a drive-thru party — one that Phillips and 80 or so volunteers weren’t going to let be dampened by a little rain.
“God’s got a sense of humor to him,” Phillips said. “But we were blessed. The rain came and went and everyone had a really good time.”
Phillips said about 450 book bags were handed out to students in need on Tuesday, as the co-op tried to replicate the fun of the regular party with a drive thru event that featured multiple stops, arches to drive through and inflatables.
“A lot of the kids we serve really love the (traditional) party, so we gave them a drive thru party,” Phillips said. “We made it as fun as we could.”
There were stops that featured a Chick-fil-A sandwich and a candy bag, and of course the chance to pick up a book bag — which Phillips estimates contained $75 to $80 worth of materials.
“It’s not everything they need, but it’s a good start,” Phillips said.
Phillips said it was a challenge to make sure the volunteers practiced social distancing, but she said it worked well Both the students receiving book bags and the volunteers had a good time, with a DJ providing music to add to the celebration.
Phillips said registration for book bags will continue as the co-op still has some book bags to give out.
“I think we’ll have another push for support if and when schools go back (to in-person learning),” she said.
The drive thru Book Bag Bash was just another busy day in the life of the co-op, which is located at 4395 Commerce Dr. in Buford. Since the pandemic began, local co-ops have been inundated by local families in need.
To put in perspective how busy the North Gwinnett Co-op has been consider: in 2019 the co-op gave out 171,000 pounds of food. Through July, the co-op has already given out more than 400,000 pounds of food this year.
Phillips said 60 percent of the families served in March had never been to the North Gwinnett Co-op previously.
“The food bank moves a lot of food every day,” Phillips said. “We’ve been blessed with our volunteers, but we are continually begging for food (donations).”
Phillips said the co-op currently has no canned fruit and is also in need of spaghetti sauce, cereal, jelly and easy meal kits like hamburger helper or taco kits.
“First and foremost, we are ministry,” Phillips said. “God is at the center of everything we do.”