When Braden was in the fourth grade, he learned how to turn wood at school. He instantly fell in love with the craft and, after getting his own equipment for Christmas, now-fifth grader Braden has decided to use his newfound hobby to serve the community. 

“Ever since I volunteered with my Boy Scout troop at the Food Bank, and I learned about how others don’t have all the food that they need, I have always wanted to find a way to help,” Braden explained. 

That’s when he decided to start selling his handcrafted bowls, pens, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, then donating the proceeds back to the Food Bank. 

Braden’s generosity – along with that of many other like-minded residents – is greatly appreciated by officials with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, especially as the organization seeks to raise the remaining portion of the matching funds required by a $2.35 million grant that will allow expansion of services in nine Northwest Georgia counties. 

Food bank leaders gathered at the facility on South Hamilton Street in Dalton on Thursday afternoon, sharing the good news about the upcoming expansion with partner agencies, volunteers, and state and local government officials. Construction will begin in September and is expected to be finished by May 2023. 

“We’re dreaming of the day when we can say no neighbor in our community will go hungry,” President and CEO Melissa Blevins told the crowd. “To do that, we have to have the support of many [who will agree that] it is not OK for Northwest Georgians to go hungry, it is not OK for seniors to choose between food and their medicine, and it’s not OK for mamas to decide not to eat so they have enough to feed their children.” 

The expansion couldn’t come at a better time, she said, especially now that food and gas prices are on the rise, leading to an increased demand for Food Bank services. In fact, Angela Nicholette, director of operations, says distribution has nearly doubled over the past few months and the number of people being helped is even higher than during COVID. 

“We are preparing to meet a possible 10 percent increase in the next three to five years of people served,” Blevins said, “and a 25 percent increase in the next eight to 10 years of people served in this region. The expansion will also position the Food Bank to increase distribution in the Northwest Georgia area by 19 percent, from 6.3 million pounds of food to more than 7.5 million pounds of food annually.” 

The $3.5 million project is being partially funded with the $2.35 million Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

Two Whitfield County government staff members, Debbie Godfrey and Carol Roberts, helped the Food Bank successfully apply for the grant, which requires a match of $784,600. Melanie Hammontree, director of development, says about $200,000 remains to be raised in the coming weeks.  

The impact of the project will be “tremendous,” she said, for the nearly 65,000 residents in Whitfield, Murray, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, and Walker counties who are being served through the Food Bank with the help of its 83 partner agencies and churches, including 38 in Whitfield County alone. Last year, 6.4 million pounds of groceries were distributed through 118 programs that serve families struggling with hunger. 

One such program is City of Refuge in Dalton, represented at Thursday’s event by office manager Merrilyl Calfee. “I guess the biggest thing I did not realize is just how much poverty we have in our community,” she said, “and I know there are lots of people across our community that don’t realize we’ve got many, many families in need.” 

In fact, Calfee says statistically parts of Dalton and Whitfield County are considered “food deserts” because access to food is so low for many. “It’s through the partnership with the Chattanooga Food Bank that we’re able to help people,” she said, noting that City of Refuge also appreciates its partnership with Walmart Market and other businesses. City of Refuge also recently became the first agency to participate in the Food Bank’s new partnership with Door Dash that provides for free mobile delivery of food boxes to those in need. 

Part of the grant has already been used in April to purchase the warehouse the Food Bank has leased in Dalton for the past 11 years, and the rest of the funds will eventually allow them to more than double the amount of office space, add three new dock doors for easier distribution, and greatly increase storage capacity for refrigerated and frozen items with the installation of two new 30-foot x30-foot containers. 

“We’ll be able to accept a whole truckload of food then,” Hammontree said, noting that in the past some items have had to be redirected because they just didn’t have enough room for storage at the facility. 

Blevins says research shows that one in six residents in North Georgia may not know where their next meal is coming from, adding that number is just “not acceptable.” 

“We could just keep doing what we’ve been doing … which is the best we can,” she said, “but those 65,000 of our North Georgia neighbors deserve better. They deserve a better quality of food, they deserve a better quantity of food, so our board of directors and staff have worked furiously on this project over the past 12 months. We’re not just about food – we’re about the right food so we can provide healthy and nutritious food. This project will help us meet that goal.” 

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HELP… 

You may support the NWGA Food Bank Project by contacting Melanie Hammontree, Director of Development, at mhammontree@chattfoodbank.org or 423-622-1800 (ext. 218). Online donations are also being accepted at the following link: https://host.nxt.blackbaud.com/donor-form?svcid=renxt&formId=a9ad39bb-e4aa-419f-98be-b25519b0d8ae&envid=p-wTtExAxteEq94ZgcPLa4YA&zone=usa 

Checks can also be mailed to the following address: 

Chattanooga Area Food Bank/NWGA Branch 

P.O. Box 1564 

Dalton, Ga 30722 

(Please designate NWGA/DCA Project)