When the North Gwinnett Co-Op was established in 1991, it didn’t have much space to move around in its first home, co-founder Carolyn Hill recalled.
In fact, calling that first home the building equivalent of a shoe box may not be too far off base, based on Hill’s description of its size. It was located in the basement of an Allstate Insurance office.
That left it with little excess space for the new ministry, which aimed to help people in north Gwinnett who needed assistance.
“It was a small, small place,” Hill said.
Since the co-op was founded, it has grown quite a bit, moving through a few homes before landing on at a space 4395 Commercial Drive in Buford. It celebrated new growth Tuesday with the ribbon cutting for a major expansion of that space, taking it from about 6,100 square feet to about 14,200 square feet.
The event drew a large amount of excitement from co-op officials about what they will be able to do with the additional space.
“This expansion means we’re going to be able to meet more needs in the community, serve more people and be a better community partner in serving those in need,” North Gwinnett Co-Op Executive Director Kim Phillips said.
The expansion was built on a spot that had previously been a grassy space next to the co-op’s existing space, which will continue to house its thrift store.
The expansion includes space for a clinic which will be managed by the Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett.
“It will be their first satellite clinic,” Phillips said.
There is also an education room and a computer lab in the expansion. Administrative and intake offices were moved into the expansion area as well.
The expansion will also allow the co-op to provide more food to members of the community who struggle with food insecurity. Phillips said the co-op’s food pantry more than doubled in size because of the additional space.
“We’re going to move to serving clients once a month for groceries and we know that will increase the amount of people that we serve in the calendar,” Phillips said. “We’ve also expanded our service area to those areas in Gwinnett that kind of have multiple zip codes, like your Braseltons, the Hoschtons ... — different cities that weren’t currently covered by the co-op.”
To put how much growth the co-op has experienced over the last 28 years into perspective, consider how big its original home was compared to its newly expanded facility.
Hill said the organization’s first home may have been small enough to fit in the lobby of the new expansion.
“There’s no comparison,” she said of the sizes of the two facilities.
Co-op board president Jan Wells said the nonprofit moved into the space where the thrift store is located about a decade ago after having moved through a few spaces that been donated.
Hill said many of those spaces were donated by the city of Buford.
But, with the new facility now open, the organization is turning its gaze toward the future.
“We don’t like to be a handout organization,” Wells said. “We prefer to be a hand up, and having the education (space for) adult education, the children’s tutoring, even the medical facilities, all of that is helping a person be able to get on their feet.”
But as co-op officials and community supporters looked around the newly expanded facility, Hill marveled at how much the organization has grown since 1991.
(This is) just God’s work,” she said. “It couldn’t be anything else. It took a bunch of people who had a desire who enlarged our dream.”