An Interview—’The Two Georgias Initiative’ Participants: Zoe Myers and Jennifer Lovett of Cook County Family Connection

Print This Post

by Rachael Dempsey

Jennifer and Zoe, how are you both doing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how is your team doing?

ZM: We are doing well—we’re all very tired at this point, because the food distribution projects that we have taken on have been an awful lot of hard work. But we’ve had a remarkable team of partners and volunteers that have hung in there with us throughout this process, and it takes a strong team to make it through a crisis.

What do you think has been the biggest operational change at Cook County Family Connection over the past few months?

ZM: We closed our offices like most folks did back toward the end of March, and paused our collaborative meetings where we have between 40 and 45 people at every meeting – we have a really strong, diverse partnership. But now instead of working with our partners in large group meetings, we are working with partners individually and in small groups through a variety of processes. We’ve been using a lot of social media, email blasts, personal phone calls, conference calls and Zoom meetings, just the same as everyone else is doing. Some of our work is even done through sidewalk and driveway discussions where we drive to a partner’s home and meet outside for that face-to-face interaction from a safe distance. We’ve been trying to find new ways of keeping the partnership pulled together and folks included in what we’re doing.  We’ve been really impressed with the success of our Facebook page. We had used that for quite a while, as a means to share what we are doing and to share resources and connections. Typically we had been having a readership of about 3,500 people per month on our Facebook page, but during the pandemic that number has jumped to around 9,000 readers a month. We have been excited by that because it’s evolved into a great way to share out links to other services and to keep people engaged in what we’re doing.

Your team has been doing a lot of food distribution work during the pandemic. Can you tell us more about that?

ZM: The SOGA Charitable Fund contacted us within the first week of the shutdown and wanted to know if they gave us a very generous donation, if we would be willing to  coordinate emergency food work. And we said, absolutely, we’d be honored to take it on.  So they gave us an amazing donation to get that started and we began with free food tables– five different locations where we put a table outside the door of different businesses in different parts of the community and kept those tables stocked so that the general public could walk up and take whatever they needed off of the tables.

Then we started doing our Manna Monday food drops and have done one of those every Monday morning since the first week of April, and we have at least 150 households that drive through every Monday morning. So our team members go out and pick up fresh produce, and we purchase canned foods through Second Harvest, and we buy from bakeries in this area. We also have a large hog farm that’s located in a neighboring county that started making donations of pork products to us. We distributed over 100,000 pounds of food to several hundred families thanks to generous donations from SOGA Charitable Fund and the Community Foundation of South Georgia.

We’re also still providing food for about 80 senior citizens who right now are shut-in and home bound. We have buses through a partnership with South Georgia Area Aging Council who provide the buses and the drivers. We load all of the produce and canned goods on the buses, then they deliver out to those 80 senior citizens.  We were recently contacted by a donor-advised fund of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation with a substantial donation for us to focus on feeding children.  So we’ve been using that donation to also make what we call Big Brown Bags. They’re just simply large brown grocery bags packed with about 20 pounds of assorted food items and healthy snacks, and things to help children get through the week. We deliver out about a hundred of those every week, and we’ll continue to do that through August when the children get ready to go back to school. We also receive funding through The Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, so in those Big Brown Bags we include an assortment of storybooks, art activity books, coloring books, and educational materials that help children keep reading and staying engaged in the learning process over the summer.

How have you seen your nearby community come together during this really difficult time?

ZM: We’ve been really fortunate because we have such strong committed partners. Of course our collaborative has been in existence for almost 25 years now, so it’s a good, strong, well established partnership. We’ve been really fortunate that a lot of those partners, regardless of the risks involved, have been willing to step up and volunteer to do this work.

JL: We also have had several faith-based organizations reach out to us because they have seen on social media and in our newspaper what we’re doing as far as trying to improve food access within the county. So they actually have called and said to us– we would like to bring a trailer filled with meat products and water, paper products, fresh vegetables and other supplies. That’s been a real blessing to the people in our community. And it’s been encouraging to see that, because of media coverage and word of mouth, people are actually reaching out to us, willing to come and participate because they see what a positive impact is being made.

Do you think your involvement with the Two Georgia’s Initiative has helped you all deal with these COVID-19 challenges and changes in direction?

ZM: Healthcare Georgia Foundation has been tremendously important in helping us look at everything we do through that lens of health equity. The pandemic has created a situation where so many of the inequities that were already existing have now risen to the surface. So not only our partners, but also our community leaders, are beginning to see some of the disparities that were existing before that have now just been magnified because of the pandemic. So it gives us an opportunity to begin looking at things that need to be addressed on a deeper level, and Healthcare Georgia Foundation is so supportive and instrumental in this process.

This story appeared in the fall 2020 edition of CATALYST, Healthcare Georgia Foundation’s multimedia, interactive e-magazine.

The mission of Healthcare Georgia Foundation is to enable, improve, and advance the health and well-being for all Georgians.

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

Follow us on Twitter: @gafcpnews

Connect with us on Facebook.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public-private partnership created by the State of Georgia and investors from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families. Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that impact Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities.