Over the past three decades, the North Gwinnett Cooperative has touched the lives of countless residents in the north Gwinnett area. From supplying food and clothing to providing financial assistance to offering spiritual support, service to those in need is at the heart of the co-op’s mission.
The faith-based nonprofit started in 1991 as a ministry that provides assistance and spiritual support to those in need in the local community. It was originally founded by Sugar Hill United Methodist Church.
“We’ve just grown immensely over the last 30 years,” said Kim Phillips, executive director of the co-op. “We started in the founders’ basements.”
Since its inception, the ministry’s support has since grown to include multiple church congregations, local businesses, other nonprofit organizations, schools and members of the community who donate and volunteer, as well as those who do both.
Sandra Fisher has volunteered at the North Gwinnett Co-op for more than 25 years. She has been with the ministry as it moved through several locations in the Buford area and has seen countless improvements over the years. The octogenarian feels blessed to spend part of her Fridays directly giving back to the community — she recently returned to the co-op after taking a lengthy hiatus due to COVID. She also serves as a volunteer on the co-op’s board of directors.
“I’ve been blessed with good health for someone my age,” Fisher said. “God’s been so good to me and I want to give back to those who need a little extra help.”
Being of service to those in need is paramount to the co-op’s mission — “Through support within our community, we bridge the gaps for critical needs of families or individuals and provide services to aid in finding a path to self-sufficiency.” Service is at the hearts of the ministry’s staff and volunteers.
“Everybody is there for the right reason,” Fisher said. “They’ve got good hearts.”
Phillips said the highlight of her seven years with the ministry, and a milestone in the co-op’s lengthy history, was completing a capital campaign that commenced in the fall of 2017 and raised $3.5 million. The campaign enabled the co-op to complete an expansion to its facility, renovate its thrift store, pay off debt and create a reserve fund.
Phillips said the co-op’s expansion in 2009, growing from 6,100 square feet to more than 14,000 square feet, unknowingly prepared the ministry for the COVID crisis in that its previous space would not have served the increase in need. To compare, in 2019, the co-op distributed 177,000 pounds of food. In 2020, the ministry distributed 546,000 pounds and provided almost $700,000 in financial assistance for clients. Most of that assistance was for housing.
“For me, it’s just been an honor and a privilege to lead the co-op through this expansion, this growth and even through COVID,” Phillips said. “In front of every challenge, the Lord put a blessing.”
One of those blessings is the local community.
“We are blessed to be in an amazing community,” Phillips said. “I call our community our army of angels. We couldn’t have been such a resource to our community if it hadn’t been for that army of angels. Those are the people that keep us going and we’re just very thankful for them.”
Ways to Help
• The North Gwinnett Cooperative is seeking new volunteers to assist in the Second Blessings Thrift Store from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays with a once per week commitment.
• With the thrift store reopening following its closure due to the pandemic, the store is in need of donations, particularly infant and children’s clothing and Buford spirit wear.
• Donations of backpacks and school supplies for the co-op’s annual Book Bag Bash are now being accepted. Backpacks for middle and high school students are needed in particular. Donations will be accepted through the end of July.