“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” -Fred Rogers

By Alex Buffington

The community is experiencing a monumental event, one that will forever be ingrained in memories.

Over the past couple of weeks, the spreading Coronavirus has changed people’s daily lives across the country. Schools are closed throughout the state; residents are encouraged to stay home as much as possible; local governments have scaled back; and shoppers have flocked to supermarkets to stock up on necessities.

The uncertain situation has created fear across the country — from concerns over the economic impact to overstretching the nation’s healthcare resources.

But the virus crisis has also brought out something else: The helpers.

The community has stepped up over the past couple of weeks to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some are simply checking on their elderly neighbors or family members, running errands for them so they don't have to go out. Others have given blood or volunteered to sew masks for area hospitals.

Local school staff are delivering hundreds of meals to students across the area.

And area nonprofits are spending countless hours working to get food into the hands of community members in need.

ISERVE GETS FOOD INTO FAMILIES' HANDS

One of those groups, iServe Ministries, has been distributing thousands of pounds of food each week through its mobile food pantries in Commerce, Pendergrass and Athens.

iServe’s mobile food pantry is open on the second Saturday of the month in the parking lot of the Lanier Technical College in Commerce and on the third Tuesday of the month in the parking lot at Pendergrass Flea Market.

Jeff and Sherry Grant started the 501(c)3 in 2011 and implemented the mobile food bank in 2013.

“We just really felt like we needed to be in our community, helping more,” said S. Grant.

The group gives away roughly 30,000 pounds of food during its distribution days and can feed up to 500 families, providing 10-12 days-worth of food. iServe gave away over 1.2 million pounds of food in Northeast Georgia in 2019.

Need grows during COVID-19 spread

Given the increasing concern over the spread of Coronavirus, the group is taking some extra precautions, implementing a drive-thru model, to help prevent unnecessary close contact during the mobile food bank.

“There were approximately 75 volunteers who helped (during the March 17 food distribution) load vehicles in a drive-thru arrangement where recipients were not allowed out of their car to maintain distance between individuals wherever possible,” said Sam Wilson, president of the Rotary Club of Braselton. The Rotary Club sent several volunteers to help distribute food during the Pendergrass event on March 17.

iServe normally serves around 250-300 families during its weekly distribution events in Pendergrass and Commerce. But during the most recent mobile food pantry events, they served 400 families in need.

J. Grant expects that number to continue to increase as more people lose their jobs due to the pandemic.

“The demand is growing super-fast,” he said.

Helping local students

iServe has also partnered with the Jackson County School System and Jackson County Family Connection to get a plan in place for area students. For years, iServe has held a Bags of Love program within the schools, providing a backpack filled with food to feed a family over the weekend.

But with schools now closed, iServe wanted to help make sure those families also had meals available Mondays-Fridays. iServe volunteers and JCSS staff members partnered up on March 18 to deliver food to 200 families in need across Jackson County to make sure they have breakfast, lunch and some extra food for the week.

“With school being closed for a month and these children not receiving free breakfast and lunch every day this food will really help,” said J. Grant.

Community support ‘awesome’

J. Grant said the community support and outpouring have been substantial.

“The community support is big. The outpouring has been awesome,” said J. Grant, noting the support the group has received from area churches and businesses. “…It’s neat to see the community rally together to help their neighbors.”

With the increasing need expected in the community due to the spread of COVID-19, iServe’s costs are “going to go up drastically,” said J. Grant.

If you’d like to help iServe’s mission, you can donate online at iserveministries.org.

OTHER HELPERS IN THE COMMUNITY

There are various other groups and individuals in the area who are trying to help the community.

Northeast Georgia Health System recently noted the "generous offers" from the community to sew masks for its patients and staff.

"We are overjoyed by the community’s generous offers to sew masks to protect our patients and healthcare workers," NGHS wrote on Facebook. "Teams are currently working with a select group to produce a test run of masks. Once the quality/safety of this test run is complete, we hope to share more details about how you can help."

That post has received numerous comments from area residents indicating their willingness to donate a sewing machine or their time to help the effort.

Meanwhile, Celebration Church has started an initiative to help local small businesses. The program, Celebration Cares, highlights local small businesses and their special offerings. Those videos can be found on the church’s Facebook page.

One Jefferson businessman is taking action to help students have access to the internet so they can participate in area distance learning activities while local schools are closed for the virus.

Amin Maghani, owner of Tabo’s Foodmart in Jefferson, opened an empty building next to his Lee St. location so that students who don’t have internet at home could have a place to go and study.

Amin set up several tables, six feet apart, in the building so that families could all sit at one table to work. He is also providing a cooler of drinks for the kids to have access to as they work.

If you have a story you'd like to share of efforts to help during the coronavirus pandemic, email alex@mainstreetnews.com.

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