Sheila Garrett gets the help of son Samuel (8) and daughter Rebekkah (5) to load their groceries into bags. Photograph by Michelle Chardos
Sheila Garrett gets the help of son Samuel (8) and daughter Rebekkah (5) to load their groceries into bags. Photograph by Michelle Chardos

Parish program tackles food insecurity

Originally Appeared in : 9717-8/17/17

Columbus--“Does anyone want my coffee?” “I have extra lettuce.” “Anybody need chicken broth?” The chatter at Saint Anne Community Outreach in Columbus is caused by the bounty of food that has just been given out. The room is filled with 13 families who either attend a Columbus deanery Catholic church or school or are affiliated with a local Catholic agency. They come from different backgrounds but all have one main thing in common: Food insecurity.


Denise finds it difficult to feed three kids of her own while she is often the caregiver for her 3-year-old grandniece as well.


Tammy is currently between jobs and has a husband on disability and a 17-year-old daughter. The couple struggles to buy groceries for their growing teenager, never mind pay for her school activities. 


Jeremy and Sheila Garrett have five children all under 8 years old. As the sole income earner in the family, Jeremy works as a high school math teacher but his salary has made the household budget pretty tight. Sheila kept running the numbers but they continued to struggle financially. 


“For several years I thought maybe I was handling our money wrong and if I could just write a more effective budget we would be fine.” She remembers being ashamed to admit they were doing their best to watch their spending but it still wasn’t enough. She felt a sense of relief when she learned Saint Anne Church was starting a program that would provide healthy and nutritious food to parishioners who qualify. 


Originally started in Atlanta, FANN (Friends and Neighborhood Network) is a food distribution program modeled differently than how most agencies typically operate. Saint Anne Community Outreach Director Katie Byers said the parish shaped the program in a way that would benefit its parishioners best. 


“The goal of FANN is to eliminate the fear or anxiety of not being able to provide food for yourself or your family. With income levels almost twice the national poverty level, the program is able to address food insecurity rather than food crisis.” Byers adds that because 1 in 6 Georgians report they suffer from food insecurity, there could be individuals sitting in our church pews that would benefit from half of their monthly groceries being provided for them. 


Saint Anne uses inventory from their Community Outreach pantry for the program as well as fresh groceries purchased at a discount the day of FANN meetings. Every other Tuesday evening, the members of FANN meet at Saint Anne Church to build community, hear talks on topics such as nutrition and budgeting and to sort and disperse the food into bins themselves. The amount each family receives is based on household size and includes vegetables, fruit, meat, dry goods, eggs and bread. A$3 membership fee is charged at each meeting that goes into a fund that members can decide how to spend as a group. 


In the past month, Jeremy Garrett has switched careers and now makes more money. Shelia looks forward to the day they will have enough financial security for her to make space for a new member to join the group. For now her kitchen is well-stocked with groceries and full of the chatter of her own growing family.


Michelle Chardos is a freelance writer living in Columbus and a parishioner of Saint Anne Church.

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