Feeding the hungry in the Augusta community

The Means Report

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Downtown Co-Operative Church Ministries hopes that you will consider them as you make plans for your end of year giving. Dennis Sodomka shares how they make sure people in need have food to eat.

Brad Means: We welcome to “The Means Report” Dennis Sodomka, a man who needs no introduction. He’s been a key part of our community for a long time through his work with the Augusta Chronicle and his work through civic organizations and otherwise. So Dennis, I’m glad to see you and thank you for being with us today.

Dennis Sodomka: Well, thanks, Brad. Good to see you, I really appreciate the chance to talk about the DCCM ’cause it’s they do such good work.

Brad Means: Are you like the Food Bank, Dennis? Should people think of you like they do Golden Harvest?

Dennis Sodomka: We actually work with Golden Harvest. We buy most of our food from Golden Harvest Center for a discounted rate. And they are a great partner. We call ourselves a food pantry. We’re the largest food pantry in the Augusta area. Nobody gives way more food than we do.

Brad Means: What about the relationship that you have with local churches? What kind of role do they play in keeping your pantry stocked and keeping your organization going strong?

Dennis Sodomka: They’re are the reason we exist. A group of churches, I think about 12 or 15 got together. I believe it was in maybe 1979 or so. And they were trying to serve the local community, the Downtown community, which has great need. And they settled finally after a few years on a food pantry. So they support us, without their support we wouldn’t exist. Almost, I don’t know, maybe 60 or 70%, maybe 80% of our funding comes from those churches.

Brad Means: Yeah, people should realize when they give their offering that some of it goes to DCCM and that’s a wonderful thing. And it’s not just Downtown churches, right? These churches are all over Augusta.

Dennis Sodomka: Right. They are in very many other areas, but I see the need for surveying from Augusta some are in East Augusta, some are in South or West Augusta. But primarily we serve the Downtown people because that’s where our distribution center is.

Brad Means: Who gets to knock on your door and get food from you? And how do they go about doing that?

Dennis Sodomka: Just about anybody. We give away now in a normal year, this clearly is not a normal year, but in a normal year, we give away 250,000 pounds of food. We were open Monday through Friday, every weekday of the year, except for a few select holidays, Christmas, 4th of July, something like that. And I’ve got to make sure I read the address, right? It’s… I’m sorry.

Brad Means: I was gonna say we are gonna put the full information up on the screen so people can not only find you, but also donate to you as well, if that addresses in handy. So don’t you worry about that.

Dennis Sodomka: That helps, what’s 438 street is where they show up and we’re in property that’s owned by St. John Methodist Church. They give it to us rent-free we just pay utilities. So that’s another great partner. But we’re in what’s called the house. That’s what it does on the front, on eighth street. And people show up there from 11 until 12:30, every weekday. And they come in and sign up. They have to have a photo ID and they have to, you know, some certain private information. We give different packages of food to families or singles. So it’s maybe if they just show up and start filling out the form, they’ll be all set.

Brad Means: Who’s calling you, Dennis?

Dennis Sodomka: I don’t know, I just declined, I couldn’t see who it was.

Brad Means: Let me ask you this. I’m glad you mentioned the pandemic. Which we didn’t have to, but obviously it’s a key part of all of our lives right now. How has that impacted DCCM and has it made the lines at your front door longer?

Dennis Sodomka: Now, what it has done is ground us to a halt. We have not been open on that eighth street location since about April, because it’s dangerous to give the food away. What we have done is we’ve done some mobile food pantries, food markets, mostly with the help of Golden Harvest. And what we’ve done, maybe three or four times, we’ve set up the parking lot of St. John’s as a drive-through and people come in and we’ll load their trucks up with boxes of food. And we serve gosh, thousands and thousands of people. We did one over the James Brown Arena with Golden Harvest a few weeks ago, and we’ve got a big one coming up. December 19th is gonna be a huge food give away, a food distribution and Golden Harvest is kind enough to do it as a memorial to Kristy Cunningham. Our deceased executive director, Kristy was just wonderful. She ran a great shop. Everybody loved her, she knew our clients took care of them. She ordered all the food, picked up some food. We get from grocery stores. And unfortunately she died the breast cancer the summer. So we’ve been kind of behind the eight ball. And in fact, one of the things we’re trying to do is fill that job. It’s a part-time job, but doesn’t pay a lot, but it’s very rewarding. So if anybody’s interested in that job, they can always contact me and I’ll put it through to our board ’cause we’re gonna be, we hope to fill that up by early January, maybe. And then we’d like to start distributing food again in a normal way. But until we can do that, we’re gonna do it as these drive-throughs. This is one way to reach as many people as possible.

Brad Means: You know, we see the volunteers putting those boxes of food in the trunks of these folks during the drive-throughs that you mentioned. How long will that take care of their needs? Is it a week’s worth of food, a few days?

Dennis Sodomka: We hope it will be at least a week and maybe longer because some of those boxes are loaded with things. The boxes generally have dry goods, canned goods, rice, beans, things like that. Some canned meat and some of them will have frozen meat. But what we did a couple of times is there’ll be four or five places to stop as you drive-through. One will get meat, one will get milk and eggs and the other dairy butter, things like that. Now they’ll get a box of fresh vegetables and fruit, and then this big box full of dry goods. And that’s primarily what we’re gonna be giving away in December is probably a big box of dried goods.

Brad Means: Are your clients from a large cross-section of our community? I mean, in other words, it’s not just homeless folks, right?

Dennis Sodomka: No. In fact, we have sort of a separate ministry for homeless folks. We have backpacks that we’ll give away. I believe on Friday sometimes. And they’ll be full of ready-to-eat food. You know, a little cam wieners, things like that, or fruit, stuff like that. But most of what we give away is for people who have a place to cook. These are all things that have to be cooked. Good, nutritious food. When we’re operating normally one week a month.

Brad Means: Don’t you worry about it. That’s fine, it’s a sign of our times.

Dennis Sodomka: It’s unreal.

Brad Means: Yeah I know, I’m with you.

Dennis Sodomka: Yeah. Anyways, we give away these boxes of food that they have to take home and cook. And over the years, we’ve kind of adapted the boxes to what folks want, ’cause we don’t want them to just walk out our door and drop it on the street or throw it away. We want all as it is, and we do serve a wide cross-sections. People from all over families. We serve, I think it’s about one let’s see it’s 40% seniors, about one third or one quarter 40% seniors about a quarter of our clients are teenagers are under 18 or under. And then the rest are, you know, in the middle of one third. And so it’s everybody we see all kinds of families that come through there and our volunteers are the same way. We have this huge army of volunteers who just work with a smile on their face to try to help people as much as I can. And it’s been a heartwarming group to be associated with.

Brad Means: You know, we report on the news a lot about food insecurity. Do you see that firsthand through the ministry of DCCM and do you think we just need more grocery stores in certain parts of town?

Dennis Sodomka: Well, that’s part of it. I mean, we’re located, like I said, on eighth street, well, that’s a place where there are no grocery stores anywhere nearby. So even if folks have money, they’ve got to figure out how to get to that grocery store on a bus or something. But yeah, we do need more grocery stores and we need to be more mindful of the people who are in need. I think for most of us who are you know, in pretty good shape, we’re not hurting too badly. We don’t think about those folks who don’t have a meal. I mean, what do you do for the kids who they wake up in the morning and there’s no breakfast unless they go to school and then they get a school breakfast or a school lunch, but seniors, it’s another big problem. I mean, if they don’t have an adequate income to buy the food and they can’t get the store to buy it, what do they do? I mean, so are the nonprofits, DCCM is certainly one of them, but there are a lot of others out there that are trying to take care of the folks who just need help. And we need to be generous. I think, I guess the general is pretty generous. We’re pretty open to helping our fellow man, because you never know when you’re gonna need some help yourself, so-

Brad Means: Yeah, it’s true. You never know when that need is gonna show up in your life. Very quickly, Dennis. What’s the best thing to do to support you? Is it to mail a check to the eighth street location. And again, we’re gonna put your information up, but just you need donations?

Dennis Sodomka: We do. Well, right now we need the COVID to be over so we can start serving people out the door again. But our mailing address is actually PO box 2482, that’s Augusta, Georgia 30903. So then probably the best place to send the check. We have a website too. I believe it’s DCCM Augusta. There should be some information on there about how to contribute. And once we’re up and running again, if you wanna volunteer, we’d love to have you come down and help it. It doesn’t take long, a couple hours. We need people Monday through Friday. On Tuesday, we generally go pick up food and we’re gonna have to new director. So we hope somebody comes up who has a generous heart and wants to help out.

Brad Means: I hope so too. I hope that director position is filled and that your needs are met. And every other aspect of DCCM’s life. Dennis Sodomka, thank you for what you do for our community and for being with us today.

Dennis Sodomka: Brad, thanks for shining a spotlight on the needs of the community. I mean, it takes all of us to make this work.

Brad Means: It sure does, we appreciate you.

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