Marietta’s Military Family Support Center is closing permanently, the Cobb Chamber has announced.
The center was like an off-base commissary that opened its doors monthly and offered discount groceries to service members and their families. It also provided a variety of services ranging from job searches to driver’s license renewals and pet adoption for troops.
Each month, the location near the corner of Terrell Mill Road and Cobb Parkway drew an average of 800 shoppers from across the metro area and beyond, the chamber said in a statement.
With the center’s closure, the closest military commissary will be at Robins Air Force Base in Houston County, over 100 miles from Marietta. Over 400,000 people in the metro area are eligible to shop at military commissaries.
The center opened in 2016 as a public-private partnership between the Cobb Chamber Foundation, the Defense Commissary Agency, the Georgia National Guard and Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Former Cobb Chamber President David Connell helped spearhead the idea along with retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Bankers, head of the Atlanta Regional Military Affairs Council.
“It’s sad,” Connell said. “To me it’s sad because this community came together to build something that would help the men and women that have served this country, both active service and retired. … People would come and buy a month’s worth of meats and other products, and they would come back every month. … Now, people who are getting older, they’re not going to have that option. That’s the part I’m sad about.”
The closure follows last week’s announcement from the Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, that it would temporarily suspend its National Guard and Reserve on-site sales program, which would impact Marietta’s center and 19 similar sales across the country. The change does not impact on-base commissaries.
Connell said the commissary agency’s role was to bring in the food from other commissaries. The chamber paid for the location, including electricity and rent. The five-year lease was renewed monthly.
The center operated with a combination of donations and state funds. The state’s 2018 budget included $150,000 for the center under the Department of Community Affairs.
Connell said he hopes that money will be dedicated to another project that will help military families.
The commissary agency did not respond to phone calls from the MDJ on Monday, but spokesman Kevin L. Robinson told the National Guard Association of the United States the suspension was intended to refine operational procedures.
“The temporary halt will allow DeCA to ensure the best shopping experience for our patrons at these events,” he told the National Guard Association, according to a June 18 post on its website. “DeCA is working with all responsible parties to resume normal services within the next 30 days.”
But Cobb Chamber CEO Sharon Mason said the commissary agency gave no indication of how long the suspension might last, and the chamber could not pay rent and utilities indefinitely without knowing how long the program would be suspended.
“With no timeline given, that made our current model of the Military Family Support Center an unsustainable model to provide funding for that center,” she said. “It put us where we really had no other choice; however, we are going to look for other options in the future working with our many partners to meet that specific need.”
Mason said it is too early to say what those other options might be, but she said the model of being open once a month and relying on the commissary agency has proven to be unsustainable, and she hopes the center’s eventual replacement will be able to “serve a greater and broader need.”
She said volunteers, staff, chamber members, local businesses, military leaders and elected officials from Cobb and beyond helped to keep the center open, and she hopes they will continue to support the chamber’s efforts at helping the military.
Connell said he is not happy about the decision to end the center’s lease, but he thinks it was the right call.
“We were very proud of what was created,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes you have to respond to events that occur, and the agency that runs commissaries and the off-site sales, they call it, has made the decision to stop that service. Nobody knows how long, it could be years, it could be months. The management of the chamber now and folks in the decision-making roles now have made the decision, and I certainly support it. You couldn’t keep it open and pay all the expenses indefinitely.”
“If people can look at our community years from now and think ‘Those people did something pretty special,’ I don’t have any regrets about it,” he added. “It’s just sad that the decision was made.”