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Dawson-area food pantries fill vital gaps for those in need
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Dawson Community Food Bank and Thrift Store is located at 671 Lumpkin Camp Ground Road Ste. 30, right behind the premium outlet mall. - photo by Julia Hansen

Almost three years since the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial impact, food insecurity and wider financial strains are still realities for many people in Dawson County and surrounding areas. 

This story continues below.

Dawson Community Food Bank and Thrift Store Director Linda Benson has been able to observe that firsthand at her nonprofit’s food pantry. 

“Yesterday,” Benson said of Tuesday, “we had 135 families at the food bank in four hours. Each day we’ve been open [recently], we’ve had at least 20 new people come. The first time they come, they have to fill out a form. That’s how we know they’re new people.” 

Dawson Community Food Bank serves mostly Dawson County residents and also some people from the Gainesville, Lumpkin County and northern Forsyth areas. 

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘you just don't know what this food bank means to me. We had hardly anything to eat. Now, we have food in our cabinets,’” Benson said. 

Benson has also heard tales of one person having to live off of one can of chicken noodle soup for a day or people being forced to choose between gas and food or having to live in their cars. 

“There’s so many stories or people like that,” Benson added. “When you deal with people and hear their stories, it breaks my heart and gives me the fuel to keep working.”

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Photo courtesy of Dawson County Family Connection.

After February 2023, additional COVID-era SNAP benefits ended in 32 states. Those additional benefits expired in Georgia after May 2022. 

Other factors impacting household budgets have included price increases on different groceries, rising housing and gas costs and the end of the expanded child tax credit last year. 

Deborah Ross, the Food Services Manager for nonprofit The Place, also said she still saw “a strong need” for help with food in the Dawson-area community. 

RIC-Rack serves 96 unique households, Ross said.

Relationships are key to those kinds of efforts, with her saying that she “genuinely loves” the clients for The Place of Dawson at RIC-Rack, the thrift store and food pantry located along Ga. 9 North at the edge of Dawsonville.

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The Place of Dawson at RIC-Rack is at 829 Ga. 9 North in Dawsonville. File photo.

She mentioned how workers like RIC-Rack food pantry coordinator Chuck Snead have helped her stay in touch with clients and serve as “eyes” for any other issues that a client may be having, like needing a handicap ramp. 

The numbers of people coming to Dawsonville’s RLN Grocery and food pantry have increased since it moved to its Ga. 9 South location two years ago, said The Church at War Hill minister and store worker Jonathon Dashner.

Now, the food pantry serves between 50-60 people, Dashner said. 

RLN Grocery is a ministry of The Church at War Hill in southern Dawson County. Its proceeds go to Sisters of Grace, a boarding school in the eastern Asian country of Thailand. 


Pantry, other services

Dawson Community Food Bank offers its guests a mix of dry, pantry-stable goods and lets them choose items like fresh fruit, desserts or bottled drinks. 

That food bank was also recently gifted with a donated truck to help with area deliveries. 

Dashner said the RLN food pantry offers a similar type of box to recipients, with a mix of pre-prepared and you-pick meal and snack items and different seasonal goods during holidays. 

It’s become easier to serve people with RIC-Rack now utilizing a client choice model, said 

The Place of Dawson Outreach coordinator Amy Palmer.

The model lets clients pick the fresh foods they would like as well as preferred non-perishable goods and non-food items, like toiletries or cleaning supplies. 

Palmer said the newer system helps “cut down waste” and lets the nonprofit “be a good steward of our donations.” 

Snead added that some clients access the food pantry directly, while others opt for delivery. 

“There are people that are unable to pick up at the RIC-Rack pantry,” Ross said, “and [so] food insecurity is coupled with transportation insecurity.”

“The food pantry is our gateway to help people,” Palmer said. “If we can get them through the food pantry, we like to see how we can maximize that time.” 

That can help people focus their money on getting things The Place can’t provide, like medicine or car payments, Ross said. 

The Place has also helped people fill out forms to apply for food stamp benefits and had health department officials visit the food pantry on a monthly basis to help clients access vaccines or other basic medical services, Palmer added. 

The Dawson and Forsyth-area nonprofit also offers rental assistance for eligible individuals. 

“Yes, there are people that need diapers and baby items, but there are also people that need home or rental assistance,” Palmer said. “If they get evicted, they’re not going to be able to cook the food we give them.” 

She reaffirmed The Place’s intent to offer a “welcoming” atmosphere and “help the whole person access other self-sustaining resources too, like free GED, parenting or English classes.


Pantry needs

Currently, Dawson Community Food Bank and Thrift Store is accepting food and monetary donations, Benson said. Volunteers are always appreciated to help with the range of necessary work to be done at the pantry’s Lumpkin Campground Road location.

The Place of Dawson recently shared a needs list on its Facebook page, including breakfast staples like instant oatmeal and Bisquick mix and stuff for spaghetti and other pasta dishes. 

Snead also voiced the desire for more volunteers who are willing to work either a full four-hour or a partial shift. 

“Anyone who wants to see what’s involved and going on is encouraged and welcome to come,” he said. 

Dashner said people interested in donating can do so online at www.warhill.com/give or donate in person by providing in-date canned products. 

People can donate digitally to The Place of Dawson at www.theplaceofforsyth.org or to the Dawson Community Food Bank at https://www.dawsoncommunityfoodbank.com/donate.html

Palmer underlined the importance of the work that area nonprofits do to help those in need.

“People are still struggling,” she said, “so it's important to keep that on the forefront of [our] minds.”

“We’re here to minister to the community, especially in these trying times like it’s been recently,” Dashner added.