SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (CBS46) -- A group of residents in Sandy Springs wanted to help families suffering economic hardships due to Covid-19 – So they launched an initiative called Solidarity Sandy Springs to offer food and life saving resources to their neighbors in need. 

It started with a pop-up food pantry, on March 27th. They gathered donations and invited the public. After providing bags of food to 60-families, they ran out… leaving 30 families outside on the sidewalk, with nothing. Jennifer Barnes, one of the primary organizers, said the group was heartbroken. “We had to turn away 30 people. There were 30 people left hungry on the sidewalk, and that just hurt our souls honestly, so we all cried for about 15 minutes, and then we got up and we called everyone we knew. We got on Facebook, social media, got on the phone, called everyone we knew… and by the next morning we had an entirely stocked pantry we fed 105 people, and no one left without food that day - and no one has left since without food.”

The movement grew exponentially from that point forward. Now they serve up to 200 families, three times per week. A line of people begins to form before dawn on the days the pantry is open. All the donated food supplies are organized inside. Volunteers hand out a ticket to each person in line. When the doors open at 11am, they can enter four people at a time, to ensure safe social distancing. Each person is allowed to fill two grocery bags full of items, which include fresh produce, rice, beans, snacks, toiletries, diapers and baby formula.

Everything is donated from generous people in the community. Right down to the space for the pantry. The food pantry is located inside ‘Under the Cork Tree’, a local restaurant that had to temporarily close due to Covid-19. Owner Jason Sheetz says when he heard about the initiative... he didn’t hesitate to offer up his space. “They said what do you think about it? And I said well, I’ll leave the key under the wine barrel outside - you guys are welcome to it.” Perhaps his restaurant having to close, was a blessing in disguise. “I come and check in and it’s been transformed into a pantry and it’s been very successful, and we’re excited about that,” Sheetz said. The most touching part is seeing just how many people are being helped. “It’s amazing, the piece that really hit my heart, was coming in and watching how many people are lined up outside and around the corner so that’s just totally amazing.”

Even people who have been laid off themselves, have come forward to volunteer at the pop-up pantry. Alex Cilia once stood in the food pantry line, himself… and then decided he wanted to support it, by giving his time. “I was in line and saw some people cutting in line, so I said, it’s not fair for the people who got here at 3 or 4 in the morning. So I decided to come and help my community,” said Cilia. Cilia now helps keep order outside as the line forms. He hands out tickets to the patrons waiting to get in, makes sure they are standing 6-feet apart to maintain social distancing, and relays important updates to the crowd in Spanish, as many of them do not speak English as a first language. The initiative has been life changing for him, and for his fellow neighbors. “It means a lot to me, because we all need help. Especially because some of these folks don’t have jobs, they have 2 or 3 kids, and they have no food, no money, no jobs,” he said.

As word of the food pantry continues to spread, more residents step up to donate supplies and money to keep the operation running. Saturday morning, a large load of rice and beans arrived to add to the inventory. Organizers say they hand out about 250 pounds of rice and beans each day the pantry is

open. “We’re spending around $1200-$1500 a day just as a base, to do the staples for the food pantry,” said Barnes. She had no idea what started a simple idea to help her neighbors, would grow into something so large. “It’s created a sense of community. I think food is a basic need and I feel like people rally around people when they think they’re hungry. Our tag line is ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ … and that’s truly what it is.”

The pop-up food pantry is open for food pick-up on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11am-2pm.

If you would like to donate food, or money to the initiative, visit: SolidaritySandySprings.com

Copyright 2020 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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