Grace Community Food Pantry, Flagler County’s largest food operation for the neediest, is offering to provide substantial food aid during the coronavirus emergency for distribution to Flagler County schoolchildren who would normally get free or reduced meals at school.
“We’re prepared to go to any length, really,” Pastor Charles Silano, who runs the pantry with 80 volunteers, said today. “We’ll be able to deliver to any location that they would like in order to make it convenient for the children to get food.”
The state Department of Education ordered all public schools in Florida to remain closed until at least March 30. Thousands of schools in at least eight other states were likewise ordered closed by Friday, with many more expected to follow suit, however reluctantly.
“I understand this will put pressures on many of our families,” Superintendent Jim Tager said in a statement Friday, “but the Flagler Schools team will be working to determine what, if any services we can give our families the week following Spring Break.” The day before he’d written of the strain such a closure would place on families whose children rely on the school district for their soundest meals of the day. Some 60 percent of the district’s 13,000 students are on free or reduced lunch.
Early Saturday morning, Dottie Coletta emailed several district officials, among them Lynette Shott, director of student and community engagement, to let them know that Pastor Charles Silano, who runs Grace Community Food Pantry, and its 80 volunteers “are here to help. Since the schools will be closed for at least two weeks we wanted to offer our help with food for those children that may be in need. We do have food and would be able to get it to the children.”Coletta was writing as the pantry was preparing for its usual Saturday morning food distribution at Education Way off of U.S. 1, an operation that provides hundreds of 8-pound food bags a week to people who drive by for pick-ups every Saturday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sunday between 1 and 4 p.m., with cars lining up on U.S. 1. Silano said the location distributes about 800 bags a week, with another 140 bags distributed at Daytona North, or the Mondex.
The Education Way location is now ideal for food distribution during the emergency because it’s entirely drive-by: families can stay in their car, pop the trunk, and have food deposited there by pantry volunteers (who now wear gloves).
But all year, a specific Grace Community Food Pantry team prepares 35 to 50 bags a week for distribution at the district’s four elementary schools, from where school personnel takes bags to remaining schools. That’s the “Backpack Program,” started in 2013 when Grace Community filled back-packs with food for needier children, and has since continued the program with 6 to 8-pound bags dropped off weekly. The bags are intended for pick-up by families on Friday, enabling them to have the extra food until school resumes after the weekend.
Silano said Grace Community can conceivably expand on that program very extensively, as long as the district provides drop-off locations. Amounts are not a concern.
“We get shipments upon request,” Silano said of his own food suppliers. “I have working relationships with three major food banks, all three of them supply me. We process about 2.5 million pounds of food per year. So I’m able to get almost anything.” Grace Community has been in a partnership with the school district since 2013. Now, with the national emergency the president declared on Friday, because of the coronavirus, Silano said he would be able to secure even more food if necessary. “Between all three I’ll have more than enough.”District officials had not replied to questions emailed to them Saturday about their plans, either with Grace Community or on the district’s own initiative. But a district spokesman on Friday had said that the district would use spring break–which started Friday and was to last one week–to devise such plans. The district continues to have access to food as well of course, Grace Community seeing itself as a supplement or a bridge to broader needs, but “even if that was not the case, between all the supplies I have we stand in good position,” Silano said. “This is not something that’s going to go on forever but even if it goes on for a couple of months we’ll be in good shape.”
Backpacks generally include a protein, carbohydrate, fruit, snack and a vegetable, what Silano calls “shelf-stable foods.”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a bi-partisan 363-40 vote Friday includes an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, and food aid specified for households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals if not for their schools being closed due to the COVID-19 emergency, according to wording in the bill. In order to be eligible, the child’s school must be closed for no less than five consecutive days, however. At the moment, the closure order that applies in Flagler is time-limited to five days, though that could change.
The Senate has yet to pass the bill. U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, whose district includes all of Flagler County, was one of 40 Republicans and just 2 of Florida’s 14 House Republicans who voted against the bill. Florida’s congressional delegation voted for it 22-2.
Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
Shame on Re. Waltz for voting against the House Bill.
For anyone that lives in a bubble and likes to think they live in a nice and exclusive part of the country where people have money and live a lavish life…60% of the children in your district are getting free or reduced lunch. Thats more than half of the parents in your district that cant even afford to buy their own children lunch!
So please stop pretending you live in a fancy place with lots of money when you have literaly choosen to live in a county whith parents truggling to feed their kids.
We need more affordable housing for parents with children who need free or reduced lunch. Also counciling for these poor young children who have to go through life knowing their family is struggling to feed them.
At Sally….. I know and understand that a lot of family’s depend on the school breakfast and lunch and after school meal and its great that we have a program to help out do that. But if they actually checked the applications for free and reduced that 60% would probably drop down to 30% or less. So don’t feel so bad Palm Coast isn’t as bad off as you think it is. But unfortunately this happens in all school districts.
Mary Fusco says
I only have one question. How did these needy people feed their children before they went to school? My parents were not wealthy, yet we were fed. I had 4 children and could manage a bowl of cereal and toast before they went to school. I also packed them a lunch every day. It wasn’t always meat. Most times peanut butter and Jelly, some chips and a drink. I baked them cupcakes from a $1 box of mix for desert and an after school treat Guess what, they are all adults. Freakin laziness is what comes to my mind with people depending on schools to feed their children. If you can’t feed them, don’t have them. End of discussion.
Gary R says
I agree with Mary Fusco. My parents had 5 children and we never had free aid and handouts. Must be Democrats.
Thumbs up Mary. There are a lot of ways to feed a family with low cost ingredients.
Ever heard of “From Scratch” cooking? Leftovers are a great lunch, but guess what…fast food from the night before doesn’t have any!
Linda Hoffman says
Linda Hoffman says
Thank you for doing God’s work.
This is the best thing I’ve read in weeks. So many retired people do live in a bubble in Palm Coast and don’t realize there are actually those living in the county without enough food for one reason or another. When I’ve told retired friends of mine that sixty percent of school children are on free or reduced lunch, they are appalled. I’m so glad I am with the school system to know and see the reality of children not having enough clothes and or food.
Thank you to all volunteers and the pantry for bring some sunshine during these difficult times.
Please post if the public could bring donations over to the pantry and what specifically is needed.
C clauson says
Carol says: Perhaps congressman Waltz should volunteer to work at food banks before he votes against funding food for children…..SHAME on him
USED to volunteer there, that is until political candidates like Mullins and O’brien came by and used it as a campaign platform. Shameful. Why didn’t they help out other than handing out their signs and teebshirts?
Are there any local pantries that will take individual donations any more, does anyone know? Seems like the Grace place gets large supplies from elsewhere. We were waiting for the post office pickup which usually was twice a year, but that seems to have gone by the wayside, there was nothing last Thanksgiving. And the one in Bunnell near the landscape place I think was in an old building that was demolished.