Intown Collaborative Ministries works to bridge homelessness and hunger

Juniors+Becca+Bates+%28left%29%2C+Ethan+Johnson+%28center%29+and+Ryan+Hamilton+%28right%29+were+involved+in+Grady%27s+21st+Century+Leaders+winter+food+drive.+1%2C667+food+items+were+donated+by+71+different+Grady+community+members.+All+donations+went+to+Intown+Collaborative+Food+Ministries.+

Courtesy of Ethan Johnson

Juniors Becca Bates (left), Ethan Johnson (center) and Ryan Hamilton (right) were involved in Grady’s 21st Century Leaders winter food drive. 1,667 food items were donated by 71 different Grady community members. All donations went to Intown Collaborative Food Ministries.

Yei Bin Andrews

A small organization is working to fill a massive gap facing Atlantans: homelessness and food insecurity.

In 2009, the offices of Intown Community Assistance, an organization providing relief for hunger and homelessness, were destroyed by a fire. Members and leaders from Atlanta synagogues and churches put their minds together to figure out how to support the Atlanta community. From the ashes of the fire, Intown Collaborative Ministries (Intown) was born. 

Laura DeGroot recently joined Intown. She is the food pantry coordinator and works closely with the Food Ministries, one of Intown’s two main programs, to help put food insecurity on the decline. 

“In my career, I’ve worked in the hunger relief space as a social worker,” DeGroot said. “And so I was looking for a job around June of this year, and they [Intown] were hiring.”

Intown, located on Ponce, allows people to get a full bag of groceries twice a week, on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. It has become a strategically placed hub for Atlantans struggling to put food on the table. 

“There’s not any other food banks around here for folks, so we’re meeting a need for people,” DeGroot said. “It’s important to have access to food for those folks who don’t have transportation.” 

The food pantry, organized like a grocery store, is a place where anyone in need, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, can get pantry staples and non-perishable goods. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have had to close their doors and reduce their hours. For Intown, the opposite has happened. 

“Before the pandemic, we only had our pantry open once a week on Saturdays,” DeGroot said. “Now it’s open three times a week, and we’ve seen over a 400% increase in people coming for help.”

In addition to the Food Ministries, Intown has their Homeless Outreach program. Volunteers and workers go to encampments around Atlanta to create  relationships with the homeless people and attempt to assist them in the housing process.

Many members of the Grady community have dedicated volunteer hours to the Food Ministries. History teacher Mary Van Atta,  the teacher advisor for Grady’s 21st Century Leaders Club, has worked with Intown in the past, and recognizes the importance of having a place like Intown in the Grady community. 

“The thing about  [Intown] is a lot of people want to help and want to start locally,” Van Atta said. “They want to start with an organization that’s in their community, an organization that they can feel affiliated with or just something that’s close by and easy for them to get to. Intown is one of the organizations that provides those niche services.”

Junior Ethan Johnson and president of 21st Century Leaders club heard about Intown from Van Atta. He helped orchestrate the club’s Winter Food drive, with all food donations going to Intown. The contact-free drive collected a total of 1,667 food items donated by 71 Grady families.

Part of Johnson’s inspiration for the drive came from the pandemic that has hit many close to home. 

“[Intown] is especially important now, during the middle of the pandemic, because the demand for food and other services is so much greater,” Johnson said. “Intown helps the most vulnerable in the community through their outreach to the homeless and their food bank, which provides so many people in the community who are food insecure. I think the work that they do has a real impact on members of the community, especially now more than ever.”

Both Johnson and Van Atta see the large impacts of small actions, such as donating food. 

“This is my first time working with Intown Collaborative Ministries, but I would definitely do it again in the future,” Johnson said. “I also really appreciate the work they are doing in the community and that I have the opportunity to help out alongside them and have a significant impact.”

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