BUFORD — Cars, one after another pull up to the loading docks of the North Gwinnett Co-Op as volunteers from Buford City Schools place boxes and bags of food into their trunks.  These vital supplies are a lifeline for some.

North Gwinnett Co-Op’s Executive Director, Kim Phillips says that they are bridging the gap of resources to a record number of families since the order to close public schools first came down.  Since that order came, families who never needed assistance before suddenly found themselves struggling after losing hours at work or losing a job altogether. 

Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools have been delivering lunches to students since the homeschooling started to help families that depend on the free lunches that schools provide their children.  However, during the week of each school district’s Spring Break week, families were left to provide lunches for themselves. The North Gwinnett Co-Op was a saving grace for hundreds of families during this time.

During the week of March 30 through April 3, Gwinnett County had their Spring Break week.  Phillips relates that during that week, the pantry at the Co-Op served approximately 600 families.  That is the amount of food given and families served as they would normally serve in about four months.  

Phillips admits it hasn’t been easy to meet the needs of so many families but she claims that they have a generous community, both from individuals and businesses, as well as, a great network of other nonprofit organizations in the county that they work with.  

Gwinnett Cares is a coalition of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County that work together to serve the residents in the county that need assistance.  The organizations under the Gwinnett Cares umbrella have been busy moving around supplies from one pantry to another with the help of transportation from the Gwinnett County government to make sure that each pantry has what they need.

The Co-Op has made sure that the residents that they serve are taken care of.  That could mean delivering food to those who do not have transportation to come to the Co-Op to get food.  Phillips says that they have been taking extra care of the senior citizens that rely on them to meet their needs.  This could mean taking food to their homes and going to pharmacies to collect their medications and delivering it to their homes.  

Phillips is adamant that they do as much as possible to keep seniors from having to expose themselves to the virus.  This goes for their volunteer base as well, which historically, has been made up of mostly senior citizens. Until it is safe enough for seniors to return, the Co-Op will have to rely on younger people to fill their volunteer ranks.  Phillips is proud to say that the community has been good about volunteering at the facility and they currently have enough organizations slated to help.

The food pantry is just one service of many that the North Gwinnett Co-Op provides the residents of Buford, Sugar Hill, and Suwanee.  They offer free clothing, assistance paying for non-narcotic prescription medications, assistance with paying utility bills, and more.

Since the start of the troubles with COVID-19, North Gwinnett Co-Op has gone through approximately 10,000 pounds of food.  To say that the shelves in the pantry are growing bare is not an exaggeration in the least. They rely on generous donations from the community to be able to continue to help those in need.  Phillips urges those that can to please donate food or consider making a monetary donation to the Co-Op. Monetary donations are used to purchase food from the many vendors that they work with or to help with utility bills or prescription medication assistance.

Here are a few items that the Co-Op would love to receive in donations.

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Dish Soap
  • Canned Beans (not Green Beans)
  • Any Canned Meats (Tuna/Chicken/Spam)
  • Cereal
  • Canned Pasta
  • White Rice
  • Taco Kits
  • Canned Fruit
  • Diapers & Wipes
  • Toilet Paper & Paper Towels

Donations can be dropped off at the North Gwinnett Co-Operative located at 4395 Commerce Drive in Buford during normal operating hours.  Gwinnett Cares also collects donations at the 12Stone Church located at 2565 Buford Highway NE in Buford and the Gwinnett Church Sugar Hill at 300 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Sugar Hill.  Some residents have even used food delivery services such as Kroger delivery, Amazon, or Instacart to deliver food directly to the pantry.

Phillips expresses her gratitude for the manner in which the community has banded together during this pandemic.  From organizations such as the Buford City Schools which were volunteering at the pantry on Wednesday to individuals donating items or monetary donations to businesses making contributions, the Co-Op simply could not operate without each of them.

To learn more about the North Gwinnett Co-Operative or to make a donation, visit their website here.  If you wish to know more about the Gwinnett Cares initiative that is a part of the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia, click here.

— By Alicia Couch Payne

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