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Vehicles and a few people on foot representing upwards of 300 families gathered this morning at 9 a.m. on the grounds of the Flagler County Airport to collect donated food provided by Farm Share, the Florida non-profit that mixes canned goods and non-perishables with fresh produce and fruit for those who need it most.
By 11 a.m., more than 20 cars had to be turned away as the food, brought in by one of Farm Share’s big rigs, began running out. The turnout is an indication of the ongoing difficulties many local families are going through as they recover from Hurricane Matthew. Even though relatively few households sustained direct damage from the storm, every household in the county went three to four days without power, forcing them to empty fridges and freezers and start over. Thousands of families who live from paycheck to paycheck, if that, could not do so easily.
Farm Share travels the state, distributing food all year. It’s been in higher demand because of the hurricane. It wasn’t scheduled for a stop in Flagler until Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner, the legislators whose district includes all of Flagler County, arranged to have the company provide a giveaway this morning at the Flagler County Airport.
The needs transcend post-hurricane relief, says Paul Smallwood, director of Farm Share in northeast Florida. “I’m seeing kids going hungry, they have no food, I’m seeing families going hungry, no food,” he said. It goes beyond people on fixed income or those who eat only one meal a day. “I’m seeing some people they have no food period. That’s all the food they’ve got is what we’re giving them. There’s a huge need in the counties. Certain counties have more needs than others,” particularly Putnam County, Smallwood said. “On a daily basis the need in Florida is huge. It’s staggering.”
The protein-based food being distributed includes franks and beans, cereal, milk, granola bars, “a good nutritious package. This will feed one person for about a day and a half,” he said. “Good quality food. Then we also brought other foods—some vegetables, canned tuna, chicken, things of that nature, canned vegetables. I try to get them as fresh food as I can, make sure it’s nutritious, make sure it has a long shelf life. These have about a nine-month shelf life.”
This morning the truck’s supplies were unloaded along a distribution line busy with some of the 40 volunteers Suzy Gamblain, executive director of Flagler Volunteer Services, had gathered. She’s been coordinating an army of volunteers throughout the emergency—up to 1,000 people, she said, including volunteers from out of the county who traveled here to help. For the Farm Share event, she got a request for 20 volunteers, and was able to double that, not including Renner and Hutson, who provided traffic control.
“What the storm shows,” Renner said, “is that you have many people that are living paycheck to paycheck. The United Way uses the phrase ‘alice,’ asset limited, income constrained, employed, those people that are working hard to make it, they may or may not be receiving public assistance, but in a storm like this where they’re set back, it can be a setback that lasts long after the storm, and I think it’s important for people to realize that though the storm has passed, there’s ongoing damage we need to address so we don’t have further victims. An example of that is somebody living in a house where they shouldn’t be living, because of the water intrusion, if there’s contamination, and they may not know or they just may not feel they have a place to go. So looking for temporary housing and things of that nature are important at this stage after the storm. What we’re doing here today is trying to replenish food stores for people who have lost power. When we lose power we lose all of our food. Like everybody else in this county, we went home, we took everything out of the refrigerator, out of the freezer, that could possibly spoil, and threw it out. Not everyone is immediately able to replenish all that’s in the refrigerator, in the freezer. So this is an effort, certainly not a complete answer, but an effort to try to put more back in their pantry, put more back in their refrigerator to get them back through this difficult transition.”
Last week the airport had been used as a point of distribution for water and meals ready to eat, distributed by National Guard personnel, for several days.
“Another great reason why we have the airport, a great distribution point for things like this,” Roy Sieger, the airport director, said.
Farm Share: You can sponsor-a-load today
“Sponsoring a load,” Farm Share states, “is easier than ever. You can be a part of helping Farm Share bring 42,000 pounds of nutritious produce to over 4,000 families in your community. Corporations, organizations, and other sponsors underwrite the transportation of fresh and nutritious produce to charitable organizations serving America’s needy. Sponsorship provides you with media recognition on distribution day and the satisfaction that over 10,000 hungry people in your community will benefit from your kindness. Trucking fees usually range between $1,500 – $3,000. If interested in sponsoring a truckload of fresh and nutritious produce for distribution in your community, please contact us at 1-888-749-3276.”