VALDOSTA – When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Living Bridges Ministry immediately began providing meals to the community to help ensure more than 240 families were fed.  

Last week, 1,000 brown-paper sacks were given to residents supplying that day’s lunch, the next day’s breakfast and a snack in a drive-through fashion at the community center.  

Business donors have been Big Nick’s on Baytree, Jimmy John’s, Kelsey’s Bake Away, Chick-fil-A on Inner Perimeter Road, Barry Broome Allstate, Greater Valdosta United Way and Christi Marsh State Farm.

Darcy Gunter, ministry co-founder, said more donations are requested as the need continues. 

Grocery store limits on purchasing items has constricted volunteers seeking to buy food for the giveaway. Gunter said Living Bridges goes through at least 20 loaves of bread per week. 

“If I can only buy one or two at a time, that means that me or other workers from the ministry have to be out and about more than we would’ve been on a regular week at a time when it’s more dangerous to be in the stores to our health and to other people’s health,” she said. 

While she’s not advocating people make “special trips” to purchase food for her ministry, she asks people to buy a few extra items when doing their own personal grocery shopping.

She said the drive-through meal giveaway is feeding people who have been heavily affected by school closures, adding some of the kids may have had two of their daily meals come from school.

“Parents are impacted because they work in job sectors that were some of the first jobs to lay off,” Gunter said. “A lot of our people are experiencing hour cuts, income cuts and layoffs and this helps them.”

She recalls a day when barbecue was being served at the drive-through until there was no more. Volunteers had to switch to serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  

“When people are sitting in line 30 minutes for peanut butter and jelly, then we know they’re hungry,” Gunter said. “They’re truly hungry, and they’re truly waiting for the food.”

The meal giveaway offers more than the act of filling hungry stomachs. 

Cars coming through the line also allows volunteers to check on kids and spot any potential signs of abuse, Gunter said, noting times when schools are closed there’s an increase in domestic violence.

She said she believes feeding residents keeps crime down.

“When people aren’t getting their daily needs met, they will find a way to meet them and that might take place through theft, through selling things like drugs, whatever that would be that they need to get their needs met,” she said.

Living Bridges strives to discover and fulfill any emotional, mental or physical needs.  

Requested items for donation include muffins, cinnamon rolls, mini cereals, fruit snacks, granola bars, individual bags of goldfish crackers, bread, sliced turkey, American cheese, bottled water, juice boxes, snack pack pudding, green bananas and apples.

Cash is needed to buy small milk cartons, Gunter said. Cash donations will also help with meats provided for lunch.

Items may be dropped at the Living Bridges Ministry Community Center, 111 E. Adair St., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. 

Call (229) 234-7427 for more information. 

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