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Hunger a Year-round Issue, Groups Say

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You get hungry every day and so do the needy.

That's the message metro Atlanta organizations are passing on to would-be donors who are moved by the spirit of giving this time of year.

When donating that turkey, cranberry sauce and yams, they say, think about giving canned tuna, peanut butter and macaroni and cheese boxes for when donations drop off in months ahead.

As more than 30 metro Atlanta organizations prepare to serve Thanksgiving meals Thursday, they're hoping people will remember the other 364 days that their neighbors need help.

Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, the organization with the long-standing tradition to feed the needy at Turner Field --- about 20,000 are expected at this year's Thanksgiving event --- has run a food pantry since 2001.

"Giving out food every day depletes the supply, so if we can get the pantry stocked throughout the year the [holiday] dinners will be in better shape," said Elisabeth Omilami, co-director of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless. Thousands of meals also are put together by the group and hundreds of volunteers on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Easter. The tradition of serving dinners started in 1971 when Omilami's father, the late civil rights leader Hosea Williams, fed a single homeless man one winter night.

The organization still needs about $50,000 if it is to feed the 20,000 expected at Turner Field on Thursday. And they only have about a tenth of the money needed to run the program year-round, the program's co-director, Afemo Omilami, said.

Atlanta Community Food Bank spokeswoman Susan Dumas said the recession of the past two years has steadily decreased the food bank's stocks, which are taxed even more during the holidays.

"This is a great time to be giving because the food is flying out of here," she said.

Atlanta's Table, the Atlanta Community Food Bank's prepared food rescue program, will distribute 2,003 Thanksgiving meals to about 30 nonprofit organizations. These organizations, including nursing homes and local shelters, will serve the dinners to needy people in metro Atlanta. The meals were prepared by local chefs and celebrities at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel.

Turkeys are among items the food bank needs. At a food drive at a local supermarket Monday, the organization collected 12 turkeys, and in past years people had donated about 100, Dumas said.

The Atlanta Union Mission will serve Thanksgiving dinners to about 5,000 homeless people. The organization is in "pretty good shape" as far as turkeys, but still needs other food and warm clothing donations, said David Jones, spokesman for the mission.

Like other organizations, the Atlanta Union Mission is looking at the needs of the needy beyond Thanksgiving, Jones said. He said $1.35 million is still needed to complete the expansion of the men's and women's shelters, and donations are welcomed.

"The needs of the homeless are just as important in April as in November," he said.

Four Sandy Springs congregations from United Methodist Church, Still Waters United Methodist Church, Fountain of Love United Methodist Church and the Jewish congregation of Or Hadash will feed an expected 300 people on Thanksgiving.

Recognizing the year-round needs of their working poor and homeless communities, people will also be serving food on the third Sunday of every month starting in January, said Teresa Angle-Young, administrative assistant for Sandy Springs United Methodist Church. Volunteers will be needed for that.

"When people think homeless they think of Atlanta, but there a lot of homeless and working poor who are underserved here," Angle-Young said. "And this is absolutely a year-round need. With the economy of the last year and a half, it's particularly difficult for people right now."

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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