Washington County Agency Warms Hearts and Fills Pantries

May 20, 2019

Food Pantry Director Dorothy Stephens oversees the First Love Kids food distribution in Sandersville, Ga.

On Tuesday, four days before First Love Kids, Inc’s spring food distribution, a Howard Sheppard truck full of food from Golden Harvest Food Bank pulled up to the agency on Hines Street in Sandersville, Ga.

On Wednesday, volunteers began building boxes and lining them up on the rows of tables snaking across the agency’s floor. On Thursday, a volunteer team from the Sandersville Rotary Club and First Love Kids worked all day to fill the boxes with nonperishable food. “We come in full speed so we can rest on Friday,” said Dorothy Stephens, First Love Kids’ Food Pantry Director.

They needed that rest. On Saturday morning, more than 1100 families arrived for the distribution. Some started lining up as early as 4:30 a.m.

All day long, clients registered and lined up outside, watching as boxes were loaded onto a conveyor belt so volunteers could add final food items. After a last check at the end of the line, each client family walked away with boxes full of canned vegetables, soup, pasta, frozen fish, fresh produce, potatoes and other supplies to help put food on their table throughout the month. There was also a car line that stretched back several blocks so that clients with mobility issues could have boxes loaded directly into their trunks or backseats.

“People get really anxious and you have to tell them ‘we are not going to run out of food,’ ” said Bobby Jackson, First Love Kids’ Executive Director.

Jackson and his son, Chad, started First Love Kids in Washington County in 2000 to provide programs, academic help and spiritual guidance to local youth in need. Bobby returned to Sandersville in 2007, and First Love Kids expanded to become a food pantry partnering with Golden Harvest Food Bank in 2010. The pantry originally focused on providing nutritional support to the students in the after-school program, but Bobby could see that hunger in the area extended beyond those children.

When the agency moved into the Hines Street location in 2015, the time was right to start large-scale food distributions for local families. The Sandersville community stepped up to financially support the Saturday distributions; a local shipping company offered to help truck in the thousands of pounds of food needed, and organizations volunteered members to staff the distributions.

“When you have the funding, the transportation, the volunteers and the place, it’s a win-win for everybody,” Bobby said.

The big Saturday distributions and Wednesday pantry days make a difference for clients like Eugenia, who at nearly 90 years old has come to rely on them for more than food for her cupboards.

“It helps me get out of the house and see all my old buddies,” Eugenia said.

First Love Kids’ Saturday distributions are still growing in size, too, with clients and volunteers clearly eager for them to continue.

“It just warms your heart,” Dorothy said. “You can’t help but feel you’re doing something that is so needed, and people love you for it.”