Originally created 08/17/99

Volunteers are needed for training



At a time when the number of people relying on Golden Harvest Food Bank for help is increasing, the nonprofit organization's cash contributions are down 15 percent from last year.

"If this continues through the end of the year, I don't know what we're going to do," said Michael Firmin, executive director. "We need contributions. We can't get blood from a turnip."

Although there is a national drop in welfare rates, resulting in the lowest welfare level since 1967, and food stamp rates are down, there is a dramatic increase in demand for emergency food services.

Because of the increase, Golden Harvest Food Bank is in dire need of financial support and volunteers.

"I think more people are moving off welfare and getting jobs, but they are getting low-paying jobs," Mr. Firmin said. "They are still not earning enough to make a living."

So far this year, Golden Harvest Food Bank's Augusta and Aiken warehouses have reported distributing a combined monthly average of 472,770 pounds of food. If the rate continues, they will distribute 5.6 million pounds of food this year, a 17 percent increase over last year's total.

Food bank distribution centers, located at 3310 Commerce Drive in Augusta and 13 Enterprise Ave. in Aiken, serve agencies and churches in 24 Georgia and South Carolina counties. The warehouses are run mostly by volunteers.

"It would take 800 years to move as much food out of your house as we move out of the warehouse in one year," said Elizabeth Gregory, volunteer activities manager. "Help from volunteers is very important."

Churches and other agencies call in orders or go to the warehouses to get food when they see a need in their communities.

The majority of the food donations are corporate and grocery store reclamations.

"Reclamation donations are damaged products that are still good, but they aren't pretty anymore, like dented cans," Ms. Gregory said.

Volunteers serve as inspectors to determine if nonperishable food items are safe to put on shelves.

"If I was one of these people out there hungry, I would want somebody to do this for me," 14-year-old volunteer Natanya Harrison said while carefully inspecting bags of macaroni.

Although the food bank will not turn away donated canned goods from the public, Ms. Gregory said cash donations allow the bank to buy more food at wholesale prices.

"For every dollar it takes to run the food bank, we're putting out $8 worth of food," Mr. Firmin said. "We need more support from the community than we currently have."

With more people getting off welfare, there is also a need for volunteers to help train individuals on becoming self-sufficient.

Mr. Firmin plans to develop a "Faith Food Factory," at 1891 Old Savannah Road, on property donated by the Byrd Family of Columbia County. One aspect of the factory's services is self-sufficiency training.

"Everyone needs to understand moving off of welfare is a cultural shift," Mr. Firmin said. "It's like moving from Mars to Earth."

He plans to offer a 10-week job training course, along with providing mentors from area churches to walk them through the process.

"Unless our society realizes the magnitude of the job ahead in implementing welfare reform, they're going to be upset when people fail this short-and-sweet, pat them on the back and move them on approach," Mr. Firmin said. "We need public support to help it happen the right way."

Katie Throne can be reached at (706) 823-3332 or katie.throne@augustachronicle.com.