Solidarity Sandy Springs holds weekly market days to feed families in need.
About a year ago, Jennifer Barnes woke up "with panic in my gut," stressed about the impact schools closed by a pandemic would have on her efforts to help feed children in need.
While she lived in one of the wealthiest zip codes in Georgia, her Sandy Springs world was also home to one of the state's largest populations of students receiving free lunches at school.
"Even on a good day, these kids were hungry," says Jennifer, founder of Solidarity Sandy Springs and licensed Realtor at Keller Williams. "Parents live paycheck to paycheck, with no safety net, and school lunches were ripped away."
Today, thanks to quick thinking, a wide network of friends and professionals, and the generosity of many, Jennifer helps to feed hundreds of families a week through a free market stocked by donations and volunteers in an old Publix location. Gifts as large as a forklift and as small as bananas fuel the organization.
"Our original plan was to feed the children of 10 families for two weeks," says Jennifer, who founded the organization with her friends, Sonia Simon and Erin Olivier. "Our first week, we fed 60 families, and ran out of food. More than 30 people were left on the sidewalk, people we couldn't help. So we got right back to work, fed 105 people the next day and never left anyone on the sidewalk again."
A year ago, Solidarity Sandy Springs was a pop-up food pantry in a friend-of-a-friend's restaurant. Several locations later — each one bigger than the last — the group holds market days on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays each week in a location that once held a Publix grocery store. The market follows the grocery store model, where the families can walk through and choose what their family needs.
The market services the mostly Latinx community living in 11 nearby apartment complexes, although as the word spreads, the families have become more diverse. That drives the choices of food Jennifer wants to offer at the market, seeking to make items as culturally appropriate as possible.
"There's a lot of dignity in choice, especially in a crisis situation," says Jennifer, adding while services are open to all and completely free, more than $17,000 — often single dollar bills — has been dropped in a donation basket at the front of the market. "That speaks to the dignity of those we are helping. This is a hand up, not a handout."
To donate, volunteer or learn more about Solidarity Sandy Springs, go to https://solidaritysandysprings.org .
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