New fixture on downtown streetscape lets Chattahoochee help Chattahoochee
Thanks to a unique new addition to the downtown Chattahoochee streetscape, it’s easier than ever for Chattahoochee-ites to help Chattahoochee-ites.
As part of its self-described mission to “address food insecurity” in Chattahoochee and surrounding communities, Leadership Tallahassee, Class 34, has installed a “Help Shelf” downtown at 318 W. Washington Street, in front of Around the Corner Flowers. The Tallahassee service group’s latest Help Shelf installation joins thousands of similar self-serve food banks across the nation in the ever-growing “little free pantry” movement.
It’s, nonetheless, a first for Chattahoochee. When Leadership Tallahassee erected the unique community pantry downtown earlier this month, it was the first time the organization had done so outside of Leon County. Nearly all Help Shelves are stationed around greater Tallahassee.
But in the oft-tumultuous wake of Hurricane Michael, the right paths crossed, the right events transpired and the right people began to see their community through a clearer, wider lens – recognizing that Chattahoochee was a town in need. And not just because of the devastation wrought by the October 18 storm. The need had always been there; the storm simply provide a framework for true empathy and recognition.
Ashley McIntosh, a Sneads Elementary School teacher and community activist, was the spark that lit what would become a burning passion for feeding the hungry among several local residents. McIntosh had heard tell of the Help Shelf program’s positive impacts on Tallahassee communities from her friend, Kevin Forsthoefel of Leadership Tallahassee Class 34, the group behind the Tallahassee Help Shelf movement. McIntosh would eventually connect Forsthoefel with longtime Chattahoochee florist Cindy Glass, who – after days of feeding meals to hungry relief workers and hurricane victim – immediately jumped at the chance to facilitate bringing help and comfort to her storm-battered neighbors.
After the storm, Around the Corner Flowers was one of just a few Chattahoochee businesses able to maintain a degree of operations, as the shop was one of very few locations in town that still had functioning utilities. Taking advantage of one of Chattahoochee’s only working stoves and oven, Glass – along with family and friends – cooked hot meals free-of-charge for the countless police, fire, rescue and out-of-town relief workers in and passing through town.
“During that time we had the opportunity to see there were people in our community who were genuinely hungry and in need. And it wasn’t the hurricane that caused their plights. Many were elderly residents who wouldn’t seek public assistance. It was plain to see that there was a need all the time,” Glass recounted.
With her voice beginning to tremble and fracture, Glass recalled how Hurricane Michael exposed the need of many who had long suffered in secret. Choking back tears, she continued, “As the days and weeks dragged on, I was just heartbroken, seeing the way some people were forced to live. We would go into the homes to take supplies – my children, family members and so forth – we wanted to make sure everyone was ok. These were my customers – my customers for years. And it was very heart-wrenching to see those things were happening. I didn’t know what to do about it. But in talking to Kevin, I found a potential answer in Help Shelf.”
Forsthoefel described sobering accounts of Tallahassee residents who snubbed public assistance and – perhaps embarrassed – refused to visit local food banks. They hungered in silence, the groans echoing in the halls of empty houses, far out of earshot from any entity capable of changing their outlook. But Help Shelf offered a means for the hidden hungry to obtain sustenance anonymously – in the middle of the night, when most prying eyes were shut in slumber.
And if they can do it in Tallahassee, we can do it here, Glass concluded. So negotiations ensued, plans were drawn and Class 34 fired up their rotary saws and brandished hammers, handcrafting Chattahoochee’s very own 24-7, 100 percent anonymous, self-serve community food bank. Once complete, the Leadership Tallahassee class installed the Help Shelf and the rest – as they say – is history.
“It’s just gone over so well and the community has received it so well. I see people daily adding things and taking things,” Glass said, a smile returning to her graceful southern drawl – especially when she talks about one of Chattahoochee’s top Help Shelf supporters: her grandson, Maddox, who – at just 6 years old – is dedicated to ensuring the pantry is fully stocked near-daily.
“When you can see someone in their 80s, taking only a bag of rice, it’s overwhelming,” she continued, overcome once more with emotion. “I want people to feel comfortable coming to the pantry. They can do it overnight. I want people to be comfortable that they can come and get what they need – no questions asked, no obligation or other baggage attached. You can take what you need.”
Though Glass has been instrumental in Help Shelf’s genesis and continued presence, she is quickly to shift credit to McIntosh and Forsthoefel, noting the latter – along with fellow Class 34 members – brought gasoline, food, supplies and incalculable additional aid to Chattahoochee with days of the Michael’s historic rampage.
McIntosh, Glass continued, was especially key.
“Had it not been for Ashley [McIntosh], this wouldn’t have happened. She connected the dots,” Glass said.
Leadership Tallahassee Class 34 was among the pioneers of the community pantry concept in the Tallahassee area. Prompted by alarming poverty and hunger statistics in the capital city, Class 34 of Leadership Tallahassee launched the Help Shelf project, eventually going on to plan, build, install and promote dozens of pantry sites “in all four quadrants of Tallahassee,” Class 34 officials said in a news release.
“Thank you, Leadership Tallahassee for bringing our very first Help Shelf pantry box to Chattahoochee and Gadsden County,” Glass said in a statement on May 1, the day the Help Shelf was installed. “Beginning today, our community can help those in need who may not know where their next meal is coming from. The [Help Shelf] is open 24-7. Let’s band together and feed those in our community in need! Help another, help yourself!”