They kept coming.
A preliminary count of 5,034 families came through Pleasant Grove Baptist Church from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday to pick up free groceries donated by the now-defunct West Rome IGA.
“It was awesome,” a tired but happy Senior Pastor Sidney Ford said. “Some people even cried, they were so glad to get the food.”
The word went out on Facebook and from the pulpits of churches in surrounding communities. Ford said they logged people from Rome, Cedartown, Summerville, Cartersville and Calhoun. There was no means-test, he said. It was open to anyone.
“I met nurses, teachers, professional people, police officers...We realize that even the working man needs a helping hand,” he said.
Volunteers spent much of the past week hauling more than $350,000 worth of food from the closed store on Shorter Avenue to the church on North Division Street. They tackled the baked goods and dairy on Wednesday, distributing it to about 2,000 people the same day.
The big push came Saturday, the deadline to clear the store.
“We basically got everything from aisles one through seven,” said Ford’s son, Music Minister Breon Ford. “It was all the nonperishable items; cans and boxes of food that will last. We started about 4 p.m. and finished up around 2 a.m.”
While volunteers continued to unload U-Haul trucks from the store, Pastor Ford and his assistants handled crowd control inside. As they arrived, people filed into the pews, where they waited for space to open up in the room where the groceries were laid out.
Families were given two bags each, to fill as they pleased from piles of canned vegetables, cereal boxes, spices and seasonings, soft drinks, juices and more.
“But if they wanted to go around again, they could,” Ford said. “We served everyone, some even twice or three times.”
His wife, Hilda Ford, and “the Mothers of the Church” checked in the families and kept the flow moving smoothly.
After seven hours of serving, the stockpiles were finally gone and the volunteers were heading home. But Ford said the connections they made through the food distribution initiative will be put to good use, as they plan more outreach projects in the community.
“It was really rewarding,” he said. “But the good Lord gets all the glory.”