The multiple bare shelves in the food pantry at the Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps on Friday morning showed the impact that the outbreak of the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 has had on the organization.

The shelves were not bare because of a blockage in getting food into the pantry. Rather, they were bare because of an increased demand for assistance from the community during the outbreak.

The Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps hands out boxes of food and supplies, enough to get by for up to a week, during drive throughs on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We have people that we see come here pretty regularly, and we know that they’re going to come in to receive food, but a lot of the faces that have come in are pretty new faces, so yes, there’s definitely been an increase 100% because of the coronavirus,” Capt. Jeremy Mockabee, who oversees the Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps, said.

The Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps is one of the community organizations that exist year-round to help residents in need and who are seeing their abilities taxed more due to the impact the COVID-19 outbreak is having on the economy as businesses shut down and workers are laid off.

Fortunately for the Salvation Army, there is a stockpile of food gathered as part of the annual Can-A-Thon held in December to draw upon now. A shipment of some of that food, seven pallets filled with canned foods, dry foods and bottled water, arrived at the Salvation Army on Friday morning to restock the food pantry’s bare shelves.

That food was immediately sorted and packaged for residents who come to the Salvation Army for assistance from the pantry.

“The reality is, and I don’t want to say this is normal for us, but us meeting the need for people who are food insecure is nothing new for us,” Mockabee said. “It might be on a little bit bigger scale than what is normal, but this is just an added demand on what we’re already doing 365 days of the year.”

But, even the supply of food from the Can-A-Thon will eventually dry up. Usually, that stockpile is dispersed once a month and some locations, such as the Gwinnett County Corps, might hold a small food drive to hold them over.

Mockabee said the shipment that arrived Friday morning was one that arrived earlier than normal. That’s because of the higher demand from the community for assistance from the corps’ food bank, he said.

“Usually, we could go four to five weeks,” Mockabee said. “We’ve done three drive thrus (since the pantry was previously restocked) so it’s hurting our food pantry for certain.”

Mockabee said he was not sure, given the situation with the outbreak and its effect on the economy, how long the food pantry would be able to get by on Friday’s delivery.

Possibly two weeks, maybe three, he estimated. In a span of three drive throughs in the last two weeks, Mockabee estimated the Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps handed out food to feed about 1,300 people.

And that doesn’t include the numbers from a drive throughs done on Thursday.

“In a normal year, if there is such a thing as normal anymore, (the Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta) disperses that (Can-A-Thon food) to all of the metro Atlanta locations to kind of sustain pantries through the year, and that is what we’re pulling from.

“So you can imagine since we’re pulling from that food now, what will happen in August or September. This is going to put a dent in it.”

The Salvation Army Gwinnett County Corps does food pantry drive ups from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at its offices, which are located at 3455 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.

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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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