Members of Team Feed Flagler were initially a little concerned this year. Putting on a holiday meal for 4,000 is expensive, and donations had been nothing like last year’s, which would have been difficult to match anyway: it was a record-setting year.
But as of this week, the $16,000 in direct costs for the meals was covered by some $17,000.00 in donations.
“We made it,” County Administrative Assistant Christie Mayer said. “Once again the generosity of the community provided the means to pay for a Thanksgiving celebration.” Mayer keeps track of the financial contributions for Feed Flagler, which are tax-deductible.
The traveling trophy for the most donations returns to Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston’s office. She was in a hotly contested competition with Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming but a last minute donation put Johnston over the top. Since last year, when Fleming took the traveling trophy away from Johnston, she has been plotting to take the trophy back, at times using strong-arming techniques that didn’t necessarily work: she applied immense pressure on Undersherff David O’Brien top turn over the sheriff’s entire stash of money to her. Collecting money comes naturally to her, of course. But O’Brien wouldn’t budge. Plus, he had a gun. Johnston put other means to work.
“We won,” Johnston said. “Commissioner George Hanns donated a $1 at the last minute. I collected $5,001.00, beating the Sheriff’s donation of $5,000.00.” Hanns’s donation amount was roughly equivalent to the amount of money he spent getting re-elected one more time this month. He’s been in office since the rotary-phone era.
To be fair to Johnston, all the sheriff had to do to work up his $5,000 donation was dip into the drug-seizure money fund he uses, very generously, to help community organizations of all sorts. Johnston nickel and dimed her way to her stash. That is, her staff did: every one of her staffer who deals with customers keeps a jar for small donations. But even those jars were filling up less fast than previously. But they filled up enough. And the meals were paid for.
Estimates coming in from each of the 11 sites as well as the additional meals provided from the Thanksgiving celebration on November 21, fed 4,000 people in Flagler County.
In the non-perishable food donations contest this year, a small but highly motivated group of women, the United Way Women’s Initiative team, Chicks With Cans, once again took top honors to retain the traveling trophy. Coming in second place was the Flagler County School Board followed closely by Florida Hospital Flagler. Altogether 523 boxes of groceries were filled and handed out to families. Each box contained the equivalent of a week’s worth of non-perishable food, for the average family.
“A highly competitive contest just makes the work of collecting non-perishable food fun,” Joe Mayer, Flagler County Human Resources Director said. “The big donations help us get to our goal; but even if the donation was a small bag of cans it made a difference. It takes the entire community to provide food for those who need it.” Feed Flagler stacked up more than 30,000 pounds of non-perishables.
Non-perishable food donations are still coming in. Anything gathered after the boxes were sorted and sent to the food sites is going directly to community food banks for distribution.
“Once again Flagler County’s amazing residents showed they care,” former county commissioner and founder of the Feed Flagler event, Milissa Holland, said. “Not only do they donate money, but they work to gather as much food as possible and donate their time to cook, deliver and serve a meal to their neighbors.”
Jason Hall, executive chef at the Hammock Dunes Club, commanded a kitchen full of volunteers including the Matanzas Culinary students and, in a day and half, had the whole meal done and out the door to the various locations. Volunteers came to Buddy Taylor Middle School’s kitchen in an assortment of vehicles and picked up pans of food and pies and delivered them all over the county.
“It is a special event unique to Flagler County,” Holland said. “All of us who participate in the Thanksgiving celebration get back much more than we give each year.”