As jobs disappear and the local economy slows because of COVID-19, one charitable agency has ramped up its services, attending to the needs of as many as 190 families a day.
Open Hands United Christian Ministry — often just simply called Open Hands — combines the strengths and resources of 17 churches in Carroll County. This coalition provides food for west Georgia residents and last year, they served 11,750 Carroll County residents, almost 4,000 of whom were children. In their 9-year history, Open Hands has supplied over 1 million pounds for food residents here.
On Tuesday, the organization celebrated the completion of a new project: a new 5,500 square-foot facility on Bledsoe Street. It not only is much larger than the previous 1,800 square-foot building it occupied on Newnan Street, but it also has many other differences than the old site. A bright waiting room with comfortable seating accommodates almost twice as many guests as their original space. In a large warehouse, volunteers can process food more efficiently. They have a walk-in cooler and freezer that allows volunteers to offer fresher (and healthier) food to their guests. Because they have more room, guests will be able to have a “shopping” experience. Instead of just being handed a bag of food, they’re invited to choose things that they and their families enjoy.
Not just a food bank, Open Hands is also a resource to help people bridge any gaps, financial, hunger, or emotional. Before pandemic restrictions, their trained volunteer counselors worked with guests to teach life and job skills, helping to better support themselves and their families.
Director Sue McGukin says that with the pandemic, the need is greater than ever.
“We’re serving people who have never before needed assistance,” she said. “Lately, with all the jobs being lost from COVID, people don’t have a safety net. We’re here for them during this pandemic. But I believe we are essential all the time. There will always be hungry seniors, adults, and children and it takes funding to provide that food. We could not do all we do without the support of our partner churches and the community.”
This new facility isn’t just good news for the guests. The volunteers will benefit as well. With 20 volunteers in the building and possibly 25 guests plus children it could get very noisy and difficult to hear or concentrate in the old building. Volunteer Preston Davison, a disabled veteran who works in the warehouse, is looking forward to being in the new facility.
“This will allow us to offer guests lots more access, not falling all over each other,” he said. “With these improvements, we’ll be able to provide even more families with needed food and services.”
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Jason Faircloth- Outgoing Chairman of the Open Hands Board addressed the crowd, talking about the vision that brought them to this point. Pastor Steve Davis prayed over the proceedings, followed by Sue McGuken, who thanked their army of over 200 volunteers.
“I can’t even begin to name names of who to thank because I will miss someone. Many wonderful people helped us get to this day, whether it was a donation of time, talents, or financial resources. But Open Hands is the organization it is today because of our volunteers. Many have been with us since our opening day nine years ago. That retention rate is because of their heart for service. When many of our senior volunteers had to step back when COVID hit, we never missed a day of service. High school and college students, teachers, people laid off of jobs, etc. heard there was a need and stepped up to serve. It has been an awesome experience to witness. Our volunteers are the best!”
Next, Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Daniel Jackson stepped up:
“What makes Open Hands special is also what makes our Carroll County community a great place to live — people working together to create positive change. Open Hands has all these people coming together, churches, civic organizations, and every single one of them is a volunteer … 15 months ago, we broke ground here, and now this new facility stands ready to serve members of our community.”
As the crowd of preachers, community leaders, and volunteers stood admiring the sturdy, new building and listening to the speakers, they were all startled by the sound of a revving engine and the squealing of tires on the street behind them. They turned to see a truck ramming a car, then leaving the scene. A woman emerged from the damaged car, clearly shaken.
As she unbuckled her baby from the child seat in the back, volunteers from Open Hands hurried over and helped her, holding the baby and taking them both inside to get water and wait for police.
The crowd that had gathered to celebrate the grand opening got to see Open Hands at work.