This Thanksgiving, think about this.
People are going hungry—here in Flagler County as elsewhere, with an economy refusing to improve and a poverty rate almost doubling locally, from 7.6 percent four years ago to 11.5 percent last year. The poverty rate is twice that high in Flagler for households with children under 5, and in households led by single mothers with children under 18, the rate is 44.9 percent.
Charles Silano, the pastor at Grace Tabernacle Ministries and the head of the county’s largest food pantry, sees the consequences weekly, as hundreds of families—many of
them dubbed the “newly poor” turn up where they’d never imagined they would. The pantry is serving some 800 to 900 people a month. The numbers are rising.
In four weeks last year at Thanksgiving, Milissa Holland, the county commissioner, backed by the county administration, led a drive to put on a Thanksgiving meal for 2,000 people at Buddy Taylor Middle School and the First United Methodist Church in Bunnell, fielding 400 volunteers and preparing 100 turkeys and 50 hams. Some 2,000 meals were either consumed at the two sites or delivered to needy families through spiritual organizations.
“Feed Flagler,” as the county dubbed the drive, was also a fund-raising success: two local food banks received $6,000, and the total amount of money raised, including money converted to gift cards, was $12,183.
Feed Flagler is back. It’s broader. It’s better organized. It’s looking to host meals at 10 locations around the county. The Holland-led Feed Flagler committee has been meeting every Friday morning in a school district conference room to coordinate what will be the county’s largest single-day relief effort it’s ever undertaken.
The goal this time is not just to offer one free meal, but to provide families and individuals large bags of a week’s worth of food to replenish their own pantries, to reach out, discreetly but effectively, to more families that may qualify for food stamps (by including food-stamp applications in those food bags), to raise money for local food pantries, and to broaden awareness, among the county’s better off, of Flagler’s hunger issues.
And to get the county’s leading civic, government or business organizations to compete for fund- and food-raising bragging rights.
Suzanne Johnston, the tax collector, is showing how: she’s already raised $1,200, and the figure is rising daily. “This is really a a priority for her,” Holland said of Johnston Thursday. “She spoke to me yesterday, she’s up to over $1,100 that will be equated to her challenge. We’ll be able to purchase a lot of non-perishable food items with that amount.” Between yesterday and today, she added another $100.
Marc Ray, the Hammock Dunes Club executive who cooked the 100 turkeys and more last year, is doing it again this year, along with his chef, Jason Hall.
Bug Guard Services, First Community Credit Union, Grace Tabernacle Ministries, Prosperity Bank, Temple Beth Shalom and University Women of Flagler have so far raised a combined $1,600. Bug Guard alone contributed $1,000.
On Thursday, Holland spoke to the county’s three Rotary clubs in a first-ever meeting that combined all three. After she spoke, Rotarians immediately chipped in $425.
The Flagler County Commission, the property appraiser, Flagler schools, the county health department, the clerk of court, the sheriff’s office, the supervisor of elections and the city of Palm Coast are all in on the competition, most of them gathering non-perishable food. Pepsi is donating 2,000 cans of pop. MH Operations, the new “Microhose” company setting up shop at the airport to manufacture an innovative garden hose, is donating its hangar for the third week of November so food can be sorted there and food bags prepared for distribution. Other businesses are getting in on the challenge.
“Right now the biggest need we have for this project is the monetary donations to purchase the food,” Holland said—the actual 100 turkeys and the fixings and the rest of the meal that will be served to guests on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the 10 locations (seven of which have been secured).
Holland has been touring the county and making daily presentations to local governments, civic organizations, business and civic groups and media to engage them in the effort (and the challenge) as if it were her most important campaign. In a sense, it has been: one of her most-often used words on the commission in the past six months or so, especially during budget season, was “frustration”—frustration over a paralyzed economy, unemployment, shrinking services, her own government’s shrinking ability to affect some kind of change more readily.
Feed Flagler is a salve—an immediate salve to needs that don’t get more immediate than hunger, a salve that will leverage local food banks’ stressed stocks for several weeks, and a salve to governments eager to show that they can make a tangible, visible difference at critical times beyond those residents prefer to take for granted.
Feed Flagler is also a way create a sense of unity: the day of the big meal is designed, as Holland describes it before various groups, as a way “to get to know our neighbors,” and not just those in need of food, but those in need of company, or even fellowship. The weeks leading up to the day have been creating their own sense of commonality among those taking part in the effort, the food- and fund-raising.
In other words the Thanksgiving meal itself is a focus of the effort, but not Feed Flagler’s end point. The start for this year’s effort was several weeks ago. If Feed Flagler successfully raises more than money and food, as it intends to do—if it raises awareness of Flagler’s needs, there will be no end point as long as there is a need.
If you’d like to get involved in Feed Flagler, here’s the application. email it into the county administration. You can snail-mail it there: County administration, Attention Feed Flagler, 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Bldg. 2, Bunnell, FL 32110.
FlaglerLive is joining the challenge: we’ve raised $100 so far. You may contribute to Feed Flagler through FlaglerLive, and we’ll be happy to list your name or that of the business making the donation every day the challenge is on.
The confirmed locations (so far) where Thanksgiving meals will be served from 3 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 24 are as follows:
- Hidden Trails Community Center, 6108 Mahogany Blvd. in Bunnell, hosted by Grace Tabernacle Ministries.
- Pellicer Community Center, 1380 County Road 2007 in Bunnell, hosted by Westside Baptist Church.
- Espanola Community Center, 3055 County Road 13 in Bunnell, hosted by St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
- First United Methodist Church, 205 Pine Street in Bunnell, co-hosted by God’s Family Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
- Buddy Taylor Middle School, 4500 Belle Terre Parkway in Palm Coast, hosted by the school district.
- Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 75 Pine Lakes Parkway South in Palm Coast.
Wickline Center, 800 S. Daytona Avenue in Flagler Beach.