Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

  • (Foreground to background) Volunteer Mirian Hill gathers food items for a client as Sullivan Family Support Center food pantry manager Gerald Towns, center, assists new volunteers like Hill and Poppy Mitchell. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • The memorial garden for veterans, foreground, and the community garden, background were added and refurbished, respectively, through the generosity of Atlanta based Home Depot. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • St. Vincent de Paul caseworker Daniel Jones, background left, looks over the paperwork of a client as volunteer Ben Davie, background right, looks on. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • Serene Coleman stands in front of the Sullivan Family Support Center in southwest Atlanta, where she serves as director of client service for St. Vincent de Paul Georgia. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • A St. Vincent de Paul Georgia client stands along Dill Avenue in Atlanta after receiving some much needed food from the Sullivan Family Support Center's food pantry. Photo By Michael Alexander

(Foreground to background) Volunteer Mirian Hill gathers food items for a client as Sullivan Family Support Center food pantry manager Gerald Towns, center, assists new volunteers like Hill and Poppy Mitchell. Photo By Michael Alexander


Sullivan Center still brings hope to southwest Atlanta community

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 24, 2013

ATLANTA—There’s a telephone on Dill Avenue for anyone to use. No charge.

The phone in the storefront office of the Sullivan Family Support Center may be a small token easily overlooked with cellphones in many pockets, but on any given day it can be a lifeline for women and men struggling to find work or check in with family.

“It’s like triage,” said Serene Coleman, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia’s director of programs in client services.

Staff and the volunteers at this St. Vincent de Paul Georgia office and the three others dotted around metro Atlanta help families keep hunger at bay and avoid being evicted, so larger issues like job training and life skills can be taken care of long term.

“The food is short term. The knowledge is great to take care of you for a long term,” Coleman said.  “Every day we give a client food, clothing, direct aid, or Journey courses. I have a renewed hope we are imparting sustainable change in their lives,” she said.

The lay Catholic ministry to the poor moved in 2012 into Atlanta’s Capitol View neighborhood, taking over The Sullivan Center. The nonprofit, just off Metropolitan Parkway, served the community with the vision of its founder, Dominican Sister Marie Sullivan, who still shows up to pitch in.

Sister Sullivan set a no-nonsense tone to the charity: “a hand up, not a hand out.” This tone continues to guide the center as clients attend educational classes before getting financial help and visiting the food pantry. Law experts talk to people about renters’ rights; others teach about budgeting money, decision-making and other life skills.

Nearly 2,500 women and men in 2012 turned to the center for help. In addition, close to 1,000 households received food. And the center helped some 250 people file taxes and receive a total of $370,364 in tax refunds.

Community resource

The center is an asset, both for people in financial trouble and those who live comfortably.

“It’s great in a neighborhood that is turning around, like we are, that you have opportunities to ensure those in need can get help quickly and those who don’t need help have opportunities to give back,” said Adrianne Serrano, who lives in nearby Capitol View Manor.  Serrano, 53, works at Georgia Tech and worships both at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center and at Sacred Heart Basilica.

Residents recently threw a party to celebrate fall. Neighbors helped a newcomer, who is taking care of her grandchildren, by directing her to the center, Serrano said. And the work at the center is exhaustive so clients receive all the help that’s available to them, she said.

The center also serves as a community hub. Folks doing street cleanup or other volunteer work gather in its parking lot before heading out. And when the neighborhood gathers for November’s first Friday potluck, they’ll be hosting it in the new community garden, Serrano said.

Youngers also use the center. St. Vincent de Paul enhanced the computer lab when it took over last October.  Students get dropped off the school bus nearby and pile into the center to log time on the computers to do homework here.

Fighting hunger around metro Atlanta

This center is one of four run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, in addition to its many parish conferences. Each center reflects the clients served. The Chamblee office runs programs geared for Hispanic residents, the center in Stone Mountain for refugees.  They require clients to first make appointments, except for the Sullivan Family Support Center.

But they all share a common purpose: making it easier for individuals and families in need to get the information about education, benefits and nutrition.

Volunteer Lucia Grooms, left, assists a client as she looks through the free bread St. Vincent de Paul Georgia makes available through donations to anybody who passes by Dill Avenue location on a given day. Photo By Michael Alexander

The seventh annual Evening for Hope gala on Saturday, Oct. 12, brought together some 400 of the Society’s volunteers, supporters and benefactors.  Carolyn Woo, the leader of Catholic Relief Services, gave the keynote remarks. The night raised more than $200,000 from sponsors, which goes directly toward services. Another nearly $31,000 was raised from the silent auction and donations.

The society also works with partners to fight hunger. It picks up approximately 20,000 pounds of perishable food monthly from local Kroger stores and redistributes the items to clients at the centers and at 38 food pantries in parishes. An estimated 3,000 households have benefited since the partnership was formed in 2010.

A garden for everyone

The Sullivan Family Support Center is one of this community’s resources, as is the favored Perkerson Park. A proposal being considered would build a new public library nearby.

Meanwhile, it is no secret this southwest Atlanta neighborhood around the center is struggling. Some 27 percent of families with children live at or below the poverty line, estimates the 2011 American Community Survey.

“You are going to find more package stores than grocery stories,” said Coleman.

And that’s why the refurbished community garden with its raised beds, a greenhouse, and a picnic area is so important. It is available to anyone who wants to care for a plot.

With the help of Home Depot, volunteers and workers from the home improvement giant donated nearly $25,000 in labor and supplies to refurbish the backyard.

“We want a place that people in the community can be proud of,” she said.