Georgia Pop-up Pantry Serves Food and Holiday Cheer

Ayesha Tejpar
·4-min read
Jennifer Barnes at tree
Jennifer Barnes at tree

Solidarity Sandy Springs

What started out as a mission to support food insecure families, during what seemed would be a temporary school shut down earlier this spring, has turned into something much larger than founder Jennifer Barnes could have imagined.

Barnes recalled waking up worried in the middle of the night, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that many children rely on school lunches, Barnes was concerned about how families in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta, would fare as this crisis evolved.

In a matter of days, Barnes joined forces with co-founders Erin Olivier and Sonia Simon, to create Solidarity Sandy Springs, a pop-up food pantry.

On the first day, March 27, Barnes and her team were able to feed 60 people. Yet, 30 people remained— still lined up on the sidewalk—when the food ran out. Barnes remembered feeling heartbroken and crying, but quickly mobilized.

“We called everyone we knew,” Barnes said. “We texted everybody. We all went shopping. The next day, we fed 105 families, and no one was left on the sidewalk.”

Since then, Solidarity Sandy Springs has helped more than 15,000 households. Barnes said they currently feed upwards of 200 households a day, when pantry doors are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (Mondays and Wednesdays are what Barnes refers to as “restocking days.”)

“The truth is, I think there was always a need here, and we just didn’t know it,” Barnes said. “Right now, we provide a safety net for [the families], so they don’t have to decide if they’re going to pay their rent or feed their families.”

It costs about $2,000 to $2,500 each day the pantry is open to provide staples such rice, beans, sugar, protein and produce. This doesn’t include the canned goods, which are donated from the community through multiple canned food drives.

As the weeks have turned into months, volunteers and donations have helped the pantry to provide more nutritious offerings. Barnes said they’ve been able to quadruple the amount of produce they serve, since first opening. There’s also a community engagement component — Barnes and her team has brought in volunteers to speak about pressing educational and health challenges facing families today.

To date, there are more than 500 community volunteers helping Solidarity Sandy Springs thrive. The youngest is 5 years old, and the eldest is 90 years old.

“The sheer number of volunteers, and the diversity of the people coming in, and just the feeling of being able to do something and give back — has become the whole second part of our mission right now,” Barnes explained.

Solidarity Sandy Springs doesn’t look like a typical food pantry. Barnes described it as a “charming little market with a rustic feel,” with food displayed on red and white gingham tablecloths.

Volunteers have helped creatively transform the space for the various holiday events the pantry has created throughout the year, including a shopping benefit for Mother’s Day. Using the power of social media and word of mouth to gather gift donations, such as jewelry, purses, candles and more, Solidarity Sandy Springs was transformed from a food market into a shop for children of all ages to come in and choose Mother’s Day gifts.

They created a similar shopping experience before Christmas, as well. The pantry team is also organizing a Secret Santa event. Originally thinking there may be about 300-400 kids on the list, Barnes said more than 800 children had signed up in November. They also were able to provide festive holiday meals to families in need.

While Solidarity Sandy Springs was originally created as a temporary stopgap to help out during a difficult time, Barnes said they plan to keep the pantry doors open for the foreseeable future. The pantry started out in a restaurant, which had been temporarily closed because of the pandemic, and recently moved into another donated space. The organization plans to move into a more permanent space next year.

“In the very beginning, it was stressful,” Barnes shared. “The people were anxious, and we were anxious. But then, as we kind of got into the rhythm of it, it all turned into such a joyful experience.”

To see a list of most needed items, or to donate directly to Solidarity Sandy Springs, you can visit: www.solidaritysandysprings.com

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