More than one in five children in Newton County do not know where their next meal will come from, according to the most recent study by food bank umbrella group Feeding America.
One of those children is Bill, 16, whose guardian and grandmother, Susan, has been seeking food assistance from the Newton County Community Food Pantry since she was laid off about five years ago.
“I managed pretty good for a while but then, I’m diabetic, and…sometimes I was short on food,” said Susan, who is now 69. (The names of Susan and her grandson have been changed to protect their privacy.)
“It got kinda tight on me and so I go to the food pantry every once in a while,” she said. “I think [people] should understand that there are a lot of people that really need it.”
The Community Food Pantry is one of several local food banks that fill grocery bags for those in need, although each recipient is limited to one visit every four months.
Long-time food pantry volunteer Bernice Bailey said all kinds of people require food assistance, especially since the economic downturn.
“There’s been a rise, most definitely,” said Bailey. “We have a lot of people who come in and say ‘I lost my job, and I just can’t make it with utility bills and everything else on unemployment’.”
Long overlooked, suburban poverty is starting to gain more attention, said Angie Clawson of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which provides food to its many partner organizations, including the Newton pantry.
"Suburban poverty has really become an issue," she said. "People think metro atlanta they think the city, urban, everybody's having issues, the poor are always there, but it's really not just here...there's pockets of issues."
Not only is housing sometimes more expensive in the suburbs, but transportation also becomes a barrier to employment.
In Newton County, which lies on the edge of the Metro Atlanta area, 17.8% of the population are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from, while 22.9% of children are in the same position.
Some, like Bailey, choose to volunteer their time in an effort to alleviate hunger in their community.
Bailey recalled one particularly busy day when the pantry received a large birthday cake from a local store that donates unused and overstocked food. The cake was never picked up, so she placed it in a bag to give to a father of a large family. The man, upon seeing the cake, was overjoyed.
“He said ‘oh this is perfect; it’s my son’s birthday tomorrow’,” said Bailey. “Little things like that really make you appreciate what you’ve done for somebody.”
Some also choose to participate in fundraising events. The First Presbyterian Church of Covington is recruiting for its team to participate in the Hunger Walk on March 15 to raise money to fight hunger.
“This massive humanity gathers together for a cause and it reminds us that it’s not something we can fight on our own,” said Dan Walden, the director of Youth and Children’s Ministries. “Getting together is the key.”