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Flagler County has kept up a tradition of giving to the neediest over the years–the massive, $100,000 food drop organized by Palm Coast government during Covid, the annual Walk for Food organized by Grace Community Food Pantry once a year, raising around $25,000, the annual Team Feed Flagler every November, which last year provided 1,300 families with $35 gift cards, a $45,000 effort, and of course Grace Community’s ongoing weekend food drops from Education Way off of U.S. 1, underwritten through rolling donations that add up to around $100,000 in a typical year–$175,000 the year of Covid.
But Flagler has never known an effort this big: the drive to raise $200,000 for Grace Community, and to do it all by July 8, when it culminates in a six-hour live Food-a-thon on Flagler Broadcasting’s four radio stations, hosted by David Ayres, the broadcasting company’s president who conceived of the idea.
“We’re going to start the thermometer July 8 At nine o’clock in the morning on Free for All and we’re going to continuously broadcast till three o’clock that afternoon,” Ayres said, “and hopefully within six hours, we can reach our goal of $200,000.” Ayres has been in broadcasting for much of his five-decade career, and with Flagler Broadcasting since its launch almost 15 years ago. He’s developed innumerable events, tying them to one charity or another, but nothing on this scale before.
In the food pantry world, $1 in cash can be leveraged into the equivalent of around $5.5 in food value: it’s 18 cents for a pound of food, Charles Silano, who runs Grace Community Food Pantry, says. The idea is to provide the equivalent of $100 a week’s worth of food to the families Silano serves. That $100 in food value means that each family will have an extra $100 saved, that it can spend on needs elsewhere. As Ayres calculates it, $100 per week, $400 per month, multiplied by 3,500 families, equates to $1.4 million in “freed up cash and in our local economy,” Ayres said. It’s another way to “be local, but local,” he said, echoing the slogan launched during Milissa Holland’s mayorship in palm Coast a few years ago. That’s the multiplier effect Ayers is stressing.
The money raised and the food bought will ensure these food packages well past Jan. 1, Silano said, especially ensuring the purchases of frozen protein–meat, specifically, which is “one of the main draws of the food pantry.” He likes to provide families with 10 pounds of such protein. He can’t always do it with his supplies. Last week he ordered five pallets of meat, got delivery of only two. “So we barely made it through the weekend with frozen protein. And that concerns me because people are waiting online for quite a long time,” he said. By the end of the day, he was handing out two pounds instead of 10. The food-a-thon may help counter those shortfalls.
How did it all start?
“I was talking with Charles,” Ayres said, “I said, so $200,000 can buy $1 million worth of food, and he goes, Yeah, you know, and his eyes kind of opened wide. And I said, well, then that’s our goal: to get you $1 million dollars’ worth of food and then he kind of said, well, let’s call it a Million Dollar Food-A-Thon.” That’s all it took. For the past couple of weeks Ayres, Silano and others have been spreading the news on Free For All Fridays, the weekly public affairs show Ayres hosts, and the checks have been coming in, from individuals or businesses or organizations.
They’re not being counted just yet. That’ll happen during the live food-a-thon. He’s also been drafting help. “I’m not big on committees, as you know,” Ayres said. So he called on former Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, who, when she was a county commissioner, conceived of what used to be known as Feed Flagler, the large-scale Thanksgiving events that provided meals for thousands and morphed into Team Feed Flagler. Holland is handling the clerical community. He contacted current Mayor David Alfin, who’ll work the government sector, and Realtor Kathy Austrino–who has a foundation of her own, and therefore non-profit experience–to spread the word in the Realtor community.
Ayres is handling the business community: AdventHealth Palm Coast is contributing with its employees, the Flagler County Education Foundation is turning to the district’s 1,700 employees, Lacy Martin at Flagler County government organized a fund-raising contest. “A lot of times the people that have the least are the ones that give the most,” Ayres said. “A little bit from a lot of people adds up, and we’ve had a few people donate a large amount.” An example: Ayres got a letter from a couple living in New Jersey, who listen to WNZF up there and who plan to move to Palm Coast. They donated $50, their way of becoming part of the community.
Silano’s Grace Community Food Pantry serves a varying number of families each month, depending on the time of year and circumstances. During Covid, the pantry peaked at 6,500 families per month. It then dropped. This month he’s projecting to be at about 4,500 families, but the numbers are going up: Silano is getting about five emails a day of people who want to sign up. Last week, the numbers jumped by 180 visits. He thinks it’ll reach 5,000 families by August, with inflation and gas prices taking a toll, and all projections he’s seeing pointing to more needs, not less. More families are asking for deliveries, which Silano can’t necessarily accommodate. Some families don’t want to burn gas, in line, while waiting for their pick-up.
“Most of the people that come to me are working families, and even if they have two paychecks, they’re just barely getting by because of the cost of everything,” Silano said. “So this hopefully eases some emotions, because food insecurity does create some emotional distress, and that spills over into other areas. It just spills over into relationships.”
The entirety of the money raise may not necessarily go to food, but to the infrastructure Silano needs to ensure that the food can be provided, and that it doesn’t go to waste. The pantry has been in need of a refrigerated truck that can both store food on site, giving the pantry the capability to buy more food in volume, at a lower price, and be used to distribute food around the county. But that could be an $85,000 expense. Silano is hoping for a separate donation that could cover that cost.
“The infrastructure is the key,” Silano said. “If you don’t have infrastructure, you can’t deal with these large deliveries. You don’t have the capacity. It’s just going to go to waste.”
Meanwhile families and others must contend with a cost of living that’s taking a heavy toll: the median price for single family home in Flagler is now $400,000, rent for a three-bedroom is around $,800 a month, at the low end, says Austrino, the Realtor. She is seeing extended families rely on each other more and more, to afford costs. She’s seized on the food-a-thon as a direct way to help. “You know, no donation is too small. And all I’ve done was bring attention to it and made myself available,” Austrino said. “If they have something they’d like to give, I can go pick it up, or a gentleman was here last week dropping off a chat. I’m just just trying to make it as easy as possible for for people to come together on this one. It’s going very well.”
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Originally published on June 27, 2022.