North Fulton Community Charities Shines a Light on Poverty in Georgia's Most Affluent CommunitiesTom Zimmerman | Centerview, April 2013
The northern area of Fulton County is consistently ranked as one of the most affluent areas in Georgia, but that affluence can mask the issues faced by impoverished or low-income families in the area. Barbara Duffy, executive director of North Fulton Community Charities (NFCC), told GCN she is still surprised by the fact that more than a hundred families a day come to her nonprofit for assistance with food, clothing, and finance.
Duffy notes that there’s great demand for service and retail workers among the restaurants, stores, and auto centers that serve the high-end North Fulton community—an area that includes five of Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Ten Wealthiest Cities in Georgia. Most of these positions, however, are entry-level and pay minimum wage. And since public transportation is limited across the area, many low-income families look to live as close as possible to work, where the cost of housing tops most other parts of metro Atlanta.
“As far as these families’ ability to stay afloat, any little thing can upset the apple cart,” Duffy said. “What some of us would think of as very minor concerns—repairing a car, mom gets sick and can’t work for a couple of days—there’s income that would normally go to rent and bills. If we can get in and prop that family up during their time of need, they will continue to be contributing members of our community.”
Since 1983, NFCC has witnessed their community change from sleepy outskirt to bustling suburb.
Therein lies NFCC’s mission: to build self-sufficiency and prevent homelessness and hunger by providing emergency assistance and enrichment programs. For families working through an interruption in income, or learning to live on a reduced budget, Duffy and NFCC provide assistance and education to prevent a bad situation from snowballing into a catastrophe.
NFCC was founded 30 years ago when a small group from the faith community took up the charge of now-defunct Economic Opportunity Atlanta, Inc: to help area families with a dependable source of funds in a consistent and coordinated manner. Early on, these faith partners reached out to the broader community, inviting business and civic groups to help tackle the problem. In its first year, NFCC assisted 465 families, providing more than $40,000 to assist families with rent, utilities, and other basic needs.
Since 1983, NFCC has witnessed their community change from sleepy outskirt to bustling suburb. Thanks to urban sprawl, populations have boomed in Roswell and Alpharetta (up 378% and 1,899% respectively). In the 1990s and early 2000s, median housing values in Roswell more than doubled.
Happily, NFCC has evolved along with area demographics. In 2012, they helped 4,809 families—more than 15,000 people—through their emergency financial assistance, food pantry, thrift shop, family enrichment, and holiday assistance programs, totaling more than $1.25 million in assistance.
Attracting Funds and Expanding Opportunities
NFCC makes a pledge to each of its donors: all individual donations go directly to help families with emergency needs. All administration costs, program costs, and salaries are paid with revenue from the NFCC Thrift Shop and grants, including United Way and Fulton County.
They also rely heavily on volunteers in every aspect of their organization. In 2012, volunteers worked a total of 138,813 hours at NFCC, adding more than $1 million in value to the cause.
The Thrift Shop is one of NFCC’s most popular programs, and provided 36% of their income in 2012.
“We couldn’t exist without our volunteers,” Duffy said. “They work the food pantry, Thrift Shop, answer phones, do clerical work, all with minimal staff supervision. One has been working at the Thrift Shop for going on 40 years—before it even became part of NFCC. She wouldn’t ever miss her Tuesday morning shift.”
The Thrift Shop is one of NFCC’s most popular programs, and provided 36% of their income in 2012. In addition to regular business, the Thrift Shop offers assistance to clients in the form of vouchers.
In addition to their core direct-assistance services, NFCC continues to add programs they believe will move the needle on poverty in their community.
Last year, they opened a new education center in a 3,000 square-foot rental across the street from NFCC headquarters. Before, classes had to be scheduled around core services offered in the same space; now, courses in topics like budgeting and English, as well as individualized job coaching, can take place anytime—especially good news for those on the waiting list for NFCC’s popular GED preparation course.
“We’ve always known these topics were important to families, and we’re just thrilled to have the capacity to offer them in this new space,” Duffy said. “It has a much different atmosphere than our main crisis center. The education building is all about people moving forward and building skills.”
“You’re going to see us coming"
Further expanding their reach, NFCC recently won a $200,000 Bank of America “Neighborhood Builders” grant that will allow them to take their core services on the road. “We were just dreaming on paper when we applied for this grant, and no one was as surprised as we were when we were selected,” Duffy said.
“We were just dreaming on paper when we applied for this grant, and no one was as surprised as we were when we were selected.” —Barbara Duffy
Though the NFCC headquarters is just 50 feet from a bus stop, many areas of North Fulton are not served by any form of public transit. With the grant money, NFCC purchased a 35-foot RV that will go out into the community every Wednesday, offering financial and food assistance to those unable to reach the main office.
Duffy also believes that this new outreach effort will raise public awareness; according to HomeStretch, a nonprofit assisting homeless families in North Metro Atlanta, only 6% of North Fulton residents are aware of the homeless population their area. The RV, Duffy reports, will help NFCC continue to shine a light on the issue: “I approved the design on the wrap for the RV. You’re going to see us coming down the road!”
Awareness, she notes, is key to the NFCC mission. “The challenge is to get in front of folks and get them on board,” she said. “Once they are aware of the need, the resources are here.”
Tom Zimmerman is a Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.