Solidarity Sandy Springs wants the community to join its leaders and volunteers in a brainstorming session on Wednesday at O’Reilly’s Pub to help find its next home and eventual permanent home.
The Solidarity gathering will be at 6 p.m. on June 28 for happy hour at Thos. O’Reilly’s Public House, 227 Sandy Springs Place NE.
Executive Director and founder Jennifer Barnes said the sale of the south campus of the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church will lead to Solidarity’s next move. The church hosts Solidarity as one of its partners at 86 Mount Vernon Highway NW. The church said it will redevelop its north campus as well.
That will mean a seventh location since the nonprofit community organization formed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Once that process starts then we will need to find a new home,” Barnes said.
Solidarity has targeted a move by the end of the year for its food pantry, but if the right space or opportunity came along the move would be sooner.
The ultimate goal is to relocate within two miles of the Northwoods-Perimeter area so they can serve the Sandy Springs population that they began to assist when COVID started. Solidarity still has people who walk to use its services and shop for food at its food pantry, she said.
“Just the less stress we can put on them getting there, the better off everyone’s going to be,” Barnes said.
Solidarity wants to be within walking distance of the people it serves, and they want as much space as possible, though Barnes said it could probably make 5,000 square feet work.
“But if we had the opportunity for more square footage, we’ve got the opportunity to collaborate with other people who we could keep doing other nonprofits and people serving the community,” she said.
Solidarity now has a budget to pay some rent, if necessary, though its previous locations have all been rent-free.
“We’re grateful to all of the commercial real estate community that has given us a free place to stay. And we’re thankful to Jamestown Properties and North American Development,” Barnes said.
Constructing a building would require land, so that will be the goal after Solidarity’s next move.
“We would love to be able to build something like a community center where we could operate a food pantry out there and maybe a little clinic and just other things that could serve the community,” Barnes said.
Inflation hits community harder than COVID
The demand for Solidarity’s services continues to grow.
“This time last year we were serving between 400 to 450 shoppers and for the last three weeks we’ve been over 700. So honestly, inflation has had more of an impact than COVID did,” Barnes said.
Solidarity sees 20 to 25 new faces every week coming for its services.
The value of the same food provided to an individual or family, if you bought the food retail, was $138 two years ago, she said. Now that same food would cost more than $200 with inflation.
Originally 95 percent of the people Solidarity served were from the Latino Hispanic community, she said and now it’s probably 80 percent. They’ve also gained Russian and Ukrainian clientele.
“We’ve got just regular people who just need a break right now,” she said.
Community donations are the reason Solidarity can do what it does, she said.
“We have fresh produce that rivals the looks of a Publix and we spend between $4,000 and $4,500 a week on our fresh produce,” she said.
The clientele of the food pantry gets fresh produce, protein, milk, eggs, bread, staples, household cleaning and personal care items, treats, snacks, desserts, rice, and beans, Barnes said.
More than 7,500 unique volunteers have helped Solidarity since it was formed. They’ve helped with events like a Mother’s Day pop-up shop for kids to shop for their mothers, with 325 kids getting their mothers a gift. Another event was an Easter egg hunt for 215 kids. A backpack for school event served 1,250 children, and 1,777 kids were given gifts in the Secret Santa program last year.
Barnes said they just took 365 kids to spend the night at summer camp.