Catalyst - Fall 2020 Vol 3 No 1 | Page 14

An Interview The Two Georgias Initiative Participant: Melissa Line Community Helping Place The #LumpkinMatters Coalition Community Helping Place has several amazing programs, from a free clinic to the food pantry, emergency assistance, and even more than that. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected this wide range of work that you all do every day? Have you had to shift focus to specific programs or anything like that? Yes! Right off the bat, I’ll say that I’m an optimist and I always look at the bright side. It was really hard for me in January and February of this year to feel the urgency of this – it wasn’t real to me yet. I know the day that it became real to me was Friday the 13th of March, it really sticks out in my mind. We were having a staff meeting that day and it turned into a pandemic response staff meeting, Like, “Oh wow, this is on our front door and there’s nothing we can do to stop it and we need to make some accommodations right now.” On the flip side of that, we have a thrift store here at Community Helping Place that is responsible for about 30 – 40% of our revenue to make our programs operate. We need to be making close to $1,000 a day at the thrift store to really make our budget work and help the number of people that we want to help. There was an immediate threat to our financial security because we were faced with closing the thrift store. The week leading up to March 13th, our sales had gone as low as $27 in one day - that isn’t even worth turning the lights on and opening the store. The first thing we did as a team was decide that everything else would be on hold except for our food pantry. The food pantry is the hallmark program here, we’re the largest food pantry in the county, and we’ve been around 30 years. It started in the Catholic church basement and it grew, and now it’s the center and the hub of the wheel here. Our pantry is open three days a week, it has regular hours, and it’s big enough to where it’s like a commercial grocery store, basically. Trucks are coming in and out, we have 60 or 70 volunteers down here. We just had an audit of our food pantry and we have almost 700 individual families who come to the food pantry. We didn’t want to cut off people’s food supply! Especially at a time when everything else is in pandemonium. We are in a food desert here in Dahlonega anyway – the only supermarket we have is a Walmart, and that’s it. That was in March, and we ended up closing everything except the food pantry through the end of March, all of April, and a portion of May. At the clinic, we have two paid staff who took their regular hours and did telehealth appointments. They still refilled prescriptions for people who have chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and people who needed blood pressure medications still got their meds. It was a miracle, but a church and a local business also helped us deliver food to our homebound clinic patients who could not leave their home to get groceries. What was it like to see the community come together and support each other? Was it a bright spot and moment of hope? Very much so. It was heartwarming – I’ve told people that we just saw a miracle here. It was like people saw that we were about to struggle and said they wouldn’t let us struggle. We had a bunch of older folks in this community who gave us their stimulus checks – just gave them to us. Like I said, the rotary club was amazing, and we had people doing little, online fundraisers for us, like they would donate their birthday to our cause – they all just got us through. It was unbelievable, just really great. It was almost like a blessing in disguise because it showed us what the community could do when they come together. 14