The rising need from the pandemic, inflation and flooding hasn't stopped organizers at a food bank in Chattooga County -- and through it all, they're planning another community service: a woman's shelter.
The Community Resource Center of Chattooga has been running a food bank in Summerville for eight years, Angie Hutchins, executive director of the nonprofit organization, said in a phone interview. Esther Manor is the organization's next step: an eight-bed women's shelter planned for a building that used to be the county's homeless shelter.
"My husband and I have been foster parents for 17 years in the county, and a lot of the kids we have are the older teenagers," Hutchins said. "Since there's a lot of women involved in the ministry, we just stuck with teenage girls."
Kaitlyn Fuller is a volunteer with the organization. In a phone interview, she said Esther Manor will house 18- to 25-year-old women who are leaving bad home lives, homeless or aging out of foster care. Fuller said they'll have two years of supportive housing while they are learning financial literacy and life skills to get them "on their feet, so they can become the queens of their own lives."
Hutchins said there's no set plan for opening the shelter, but organizers will know more when blueprints are drawn up for the rehabilitation of the former Hope Rebirth homeless shelter in Summerville. Esther Manor won't open until at least 2023, said the Summerville resident.
"It's all new territory for most of us," Hutchins said.
Organizers will have to split four classrooms into eight bedrooms and build out another classroom for a living room and laundry area. Once they get past the construction phase, Hutchins said they'll need people to paint and furnish rooms for the young women.
She said the best way people can help is to support the organizers' two current ministries: the resource center and Flourish, a nonprofit program that gives foster care children and families school supplies and an opportunity to shop for free clothes in a boutique setting.
"The less we have to worry about how we can keep enough food in this building to feed everybody, the more we can focus on moving forward," Hutchins said.
Once the shelter opens, Hutchins said even more help will be needed from the community.
She said the young women in the shelter will need people to advise them on financial literacy, help teach meal planning and be "overall mentors." Hutchins said she would also like the young women to be around people who have successful lives, as well as have the opportunity to attend gatherings like holiday celebrations and family meals.
"We don't want them to be living in this apartment doing their business, but still be alone," she said.
Hutchins said organizers have seen an increase of families in need of food assistance. Families can visit the food pantry once a month, and in May, 570 families received food boxes. Last month, 798 visited the resource center.
"And that was before the flood," Hutchins said, referring to records floods earlier this month. "The numbers (of families in need) keep going up, and with the numbers (prices) at the gas stations and now the grocery stores going up, I just anticipate those numbers (families in need) will continue to rise as we go into the holiday season."
Families can receive a second emergency food box three times a year, but even with that, Hutchins said Chattooga County residents are hurting.
"Chattooga is one of the poorer counties" in Georgia and one in five kids are food insecure, Hutchins said, meaning they're not sure where their next meal is coming from. Transportation is another issue in the county, and she said organizers know there are many in need who don't have transportation.
The resource center's food bank is open noon to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 50 Eleanor Ave. in Summerville. Hutchins said the resource center is supported by several area churches, as well as a few individuals in the community. Hutchins said she is the only paid worker.
In good news for the food bank, Hutchins said DoorDash has pledged to help deliver food assistance in Chattooga County. She said the resource center's organizers will know more once they have orientation with the national food delivery company in early October.
More volunteers will be needed at the food shelter soon, as a Work Source pandemic program that pays workers like Fuller phases out.
"Show up, and we'll put you to work," Hutchins said, doing one of a variety of needed tasks, including sorting clothes and food, as well as food distribution.
Help and cash assistance is the best way to support the food pantry, Hutchins said, because the resource center can buy food cheaply.
"We can make it (cash) stretch a long way," she said, giving an example of a 24-can case of green beans for $2.50.
Some items cannot be sourced by the food pantry, but pantry organizers will accept anything, she said. Holiday items like turkeys and stuffing will be needed, Hutchins said, and recently, the food bank had a need for jelly during the flood to go with the peanut butter and bread that were donated.
Hutchins said people can call the resource center at 706-509-0529 to see what food items are needed, she said.
Though more help is and will be needed, Hutchins expressed gratitude for what the Chattooga County community has done so far.
"We have seen such a tremendous help, first with COVID and the flood, just seeing all the help that's coming into the community... " has helped meet the need for hungry people in Chattooga County, she said.