Gwinnett ministry helps for the holidays

By KATIE FISCHER

LILBURN, Ga. – Providing assistance to those in need, especially during Thanksgiving and the holiday season, is the main goal of the Lilburn Co-op.

The Lilburn Co-op

Lilburn Cooperative Ministries Inc. is a Christian organization that provides the community of Lilburn and other parts of Gwinnett County with many forms of assistance including food, clothing, toiletries, and housing placement. The building aon Five Forks Trickum Road lso houses Lilly’s Cloak, a thrift store that helps fund the co-op.

Kay Whithear, the director of the co-op since the early ‘90s, says that a surplus of clothing and other non-food items led to the idea of Lilly’s Cloak. Whithear says that she was inspired by the Catholic organization St. Vincent de Paul.

“They make so much money on their thrift stores, so I figured we better do that,” Whithear said.

Lily’s Cloak did not become a part of the Lilburn Co-op until 2003 after the organization underwent many changes.

Lilburn Co-op
Lilburn Co-op. Photo by Katie Fischer

Humble Beginnings

The Lilburn Co-op started off as a charity organization in a small house located on the property of Mountain Park United Methodist Church. When Whithear came to Atlanta in the early ‘90s and became a member at the church, she saw the co-op as an opportunity to volunteer and help the community. As someone who had been in administration her whole life, Whithear found the disorganization of the small charity “irritating”.

“They were supposed to be open three days a week and the first day I came to volunteer, nobody opened,” Whithear said. “I thought ‘this has got to be organized’.”

This small volunteer opportunity soon turned into a part-time job where Whithear was earning $400 a month. After a while of volunteering, Whithear became director of the organization and put it on a path to becoming an integral part of the Lilburn community.

Small Miracles

In 2003, after nine years in its small location, Whithear found a large building right down the road from the church to move the co-op to. They managed to raise $150,000 to purchase the building, but the bank would not negotiate with them unless they had $200,000. Whithear began visiting churches who were past supporters and asking for donations to be able to raise the last $50,000. At Good Shepard Presbyterian Church, the goal was met.

“I went there on the Fourth of July, with my British accent, and gave my mission minute and a man came up to me after the service and said ‘I’m going to give you $50,000’,” Whithear said.

The most amazing part of the story, Whithear said, is that she found out that the man was only visiting the church that day and did not show up there again after that. Whithear said it was an example of God working.

Community Help

The co-op works with 35 churches in Gwinnett County to help raise funds and get food and other materials donated. Whithear often travels around to the different churches to speak to the congregation to encourage donations and volunteering. Among the churches which offer the most support is Whithear’s own church. Mountain Park United Methodist member Christine Albers has been donating food items for over 10 years to the co-op.

“Kay does such a great job helping others and you can’t help but want to help too,” Albers said.  “I’ll always grab extra cans when I shop to donate.”

In addition to the churches, many nearby businesses lend a hand as well. Fresh Market, located right down the road from the co-op, donates all the leftover food that would have been thrown away at the end of the day. Before offering the food for donation, the business would throw away about $1,000 in food daily. Other restaurants nearby also donate food including KFC, Chipotle and Pizza Hut.

Thanksgiving Preparations

For the Thanksgiving season, the co-op makes food boxes to give away to residents of Lilburn that are in need. The boxes will include a turkey or ham and other traditional Thanksgiving dinner staples.

Since most of the people that reach out to the co-op live in shelters or extended stay motels, they provide turkeys that are already cooked. The co-op staff and volunteers will begin handing out boxes from Nov. 13 to Nov. 25.

The co-op will be closed Thanksgiving day. This year the co-op plans to feed between 450 and 500 families. Whithear says the biggest struggle with the Thanksgiving season is getting enough people involved and having enough food in stock to provide for the families.

Lilburn Christian Church

One of the churches that works with the Lilburn Co-op, Lilburn Christian Church, is also helping those in need this Thanksgiving. Its Thanksgiving outreach program, Lilburn Mobile Meals Ministry, is in its sixth year.

On Thanksgiving morning, volunteers start preparing meals early in the morning at the church and then begin serving them till around noon. Meals are also delivered to those in the community unable to come to the church to pick them up, like residents of senior citizen homes.

Richard Morgan, who has been in charge of this event for the past three years, expects an increase in the number of meals served this Thanksgiving.

“Last year we served over 950 meals and the year before was 675. So our numbers keep increasing.” Morgan said. “This year we are planning for 1000 or more. Only the Lord knows.”

Tis The Season

Up next for the Lilburn Co-op is the Christmas holiday season, which Whithear says is busier than Thanksgiving.

In addition to giving families food like they normally do on holidays, the co-op also provides gifts for families with children. However, this presents a new set of challenges for the business.

At Thanksgiving, people who need help can stop by and pick up their food package if needed, but on Christmas there is a sign-up sheet.

This provides the co-op with information regarding clothing sizes and how many kids are in each family. Providing the families with gifts gets harder the older the children are.

“When they get past 10 or 12 years old, they are done playing with dolls and toys,” Whithear said. “They want more teenage things then.”

Preparations for the Christmas season begin the day after Thanksgiving.

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