After four hours of handing food at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Monday, sheriff’s deputies and volunteers still had a steady stream of families coming by to get meals for Thanksgiving.

The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office’s Thanksgiving food giveaway ended up serving about 3,000 families in need. That number is far above the original projections that 2,000 families would be served at the event, a number that raised to 2,400 last week and continued to climb as community partners donated more food to hand out.

Those partners included the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry, Perdue and the Derrick Brown Foundation, with other organizations, such as Lettum Eat, helping out as well at the giveaway.

“You’ve really got to say how much people out here really want to help,” Sheriff Keybo Taylor said. “There are people out here who are really willing to step up and help other people that are less fortunate. We couldn’t have done that without these sponsors, without the people stepping up and providing what we have here to give to these folks.

“Basically, all I did was give them a venue and an avenue to come here and do what the folks wanted to do in the first place, and that’s give back.”

Some families were in line for the food as the sun was rising Monday despite the fact that the giveaway did not start until noon. By the time the food started to be handed out, there was a line of cars snaking its way around the parking lot at the Gwinnett County fairgrounds.

Even though the line was significantly shorter after a couple of hours, there was still a steady, never ending stream of cars coming through more than four hours after the giveaway began.

“The pandemic has obviously affected everybody, and the need hasn’t declined significantly,” Atlanta Community Food Bank Director of Network Growth Michele Chivore said. “The need is still there. Pre-pandemic, we had a significant need that existed and so it’s just sort of been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“So, families do still need that support. Even if folks are getting back into work, it’s more about ensuring that they have the necessary additional supports. Even if they just started going back to work, they’re not in a place they can say, ‘I’m completely financially stable and good to go.’ “

As families pulled up to the pickup area, teams of volunteers swarmed each vehicle, packing the foods in back seats or trunks. The families were able to drive off after spending only seconds in the pickup area.

Volunteer Gwinnett Project Coordinator Muriam Nafees, who works in Gwinnett county’s Community Services department, said more than 200 volunteers, including local church groups and athletes from Buford and Mountain View high schools, signed up to help distribute the food.

“(The volunteers were) crucial,” she said. “there’s no way we could have gone through these lines without the volunteers. Having this many people is crucial for an event like this because it eliminates the wait in the line.”

Chivore said families got their choice of a turkey, chicken or ham as well as bags of dry goods — such as macaroni and cheese, stuffing, grits, tuna, rice, beans and items to make casseroles — and a box filled with vegetables and more dry goods.

Chivore said food insecurity puts stress on families at any time of the year. Add onto that the fact that Thanksgiving is a food-centric holiday where there’s pressure to produce a big meal with all of the traditional dishes, and there is additional stress, she said.

“I think for a lot of folks, it’s a big relief,” Chivore said. “It’s a big relief when they know they don’t have to strain to actually accomplish having something normal for themselves in their household.

“So, that’s a really important piece that people don’t think about when folks are suffering from food insecurity is the stress that comes from trying to figure out where you’re going to have to either find food or make an alternative arrangement for either not paying one bill to ensure that you have food on the table or paying that bill and not having food.”

And Taylor said that was a major reason why he wanted to do the giveaway.

“When you go back and look at the last year or so and how much the pandemic and everything else has effected people — we’ve got people out here who are struggling with jobs, we have a ton of food insecurity here in Gwinnett County, and across Georgia but more so here in Gwinnett County — so this was our chance and our opportunity for us to partner with some of our sponsors and volunteers and put this together and give back to the community,” Taylor said.

“So, that’s what we’re doing.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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