harvests for hunger

by katherine stevens
There’s a hidden epidemic in the United States. It strikes every age group and every ethnicity. It’s hunger. 38 percent of all Jacksonville children live in low-income homes (where income is below 200 percent of federal poverty level.) So, when it comes time to decide between rent and groceries the rent wins. Or between gas and groceries, what do you think will win?
Right now our country is facing some of its most challenging days. As our country is plagued with questions of the economy, questions as to whether there will be food on the table plague many in our community. The Second Harvest Food Bank of North Florida is suffering through it all. Since 1979 their mission has been to reduce hunger in the community by creating partnerships with nonprofit organizations. They distribute food to member agencies in the community including soup kitchens, food pantries, senior citizens groups, nonprofit daycares, youth programs, residential facilities and many others. With food demands at an all-time high, the trickling donations just aren’t providing the safety net that they’re so accustomed to.
In one year The Second Harvest Food Bank moves approximately 7 million pounds of food which translates into about 20,000 meals per day. But in August, donations to the food bank were down by 30 percent. Shelves at the Jessie Street facility were scarce, and the 515 member agencies (in 18 counties) that depend on those resources were forced to go without. Some of those agencies include the Salvation Army, the Salzbacher Center and the Clara White Mission; whom supply the food to those in need.
“It was pretty sudden,” Second Harvest Communications Manager Tom Strother said. “Over the course of this calendar year we’ve seen an increase in people needing food, so the demand is up for our services. But August’s decrease was hard to swallow.”
In September, designated as Hunger Action Month, local grocery giant Winn-Dixie stepped up to the plate. Aware of our country and community’s constant struggle against hunger, they donated 43,000 pounds of nonperishable food to Second Harvest. The retail value of it all- almost it’s weight in gold.
“Winn-Dixie was very helpful,” says Strother. “The products were tremendous, like hearty soups, which can create a balanced meal. But it all went quickly, it didn’t take long to utilize the products, about a week later they were gone.”
But the buck didn’t stop there. During the month of September Winn-Dixie placed collection barrels in all 44 stores of its stores in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties. “Buy One Get One” and “10 for $10” promotions enabled shoppers to make low-cost contributions. And other local businesses joined in to help. They were accepting food donations at VyStar Credit Union (all 22 of its Jacksonville branches) and Curves (3 of its Jacksonville branches.)
And the giving spirit continues. Each fall the Jacksonville Jaguars partner with Winn-Dixie to host a family food drive (and this year marks its 14th year!) From October 21st to November 23rd all 44 stores will have collection barrels. Then on November 23rd, when the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Minnesota Vikings at 1 pm, it will culminate into a food drive at the stadium, encouraging fans to bring canned products/non-perishables to the game – an easy way for people to contribute.
But giving food isn’t the only way to donate. On November 18th the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Florida will host its 24th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon. Every year it serves to create awareness of hunger in our community. Up to 1,500 people are expected to come together at the Prime Osborn Convention Center Downtown from noon to 1 pm. As each person enters they are served a simple meal in a craft artisan bowl, which is a take-home gift! Local celebrities serve the meals while local school and community groups perform during this heartfelt luncheon. It’s a chance for our community to face the problem, instead of turning a cheek. Every dollar raised goes directly to the food bank. And for every dollar that’s donated Second Harvest can recover $53 worth of food.
More than 260,000 people in the 18-county area served by Second Harvest, live below the federal poverty level. And the scary part is that nearly 47 percent of the families that are served by Second Harvest have one or more adults who are working.
As the season of giving approaches, the need for contribution is never-ending. Not only do food and money donations help, but lending a hand can be priceless. “One of the big things for people who can’t donate money is to encourage them to donate time at the food bank,” says Strother. “The opportunities are plent­­y.”


24th Annual Empty Bowls Luncheon
Tuesday, November 18 from noon to 1 pm at Prime Osborn Convention Center. Individual tickets are $25. Call 739-7074 for more information or visit wenourishhope.org

14th Annual Jacksonville Jaguars Family Food Drive
Sunday, November 23rd, at 1 pm at Alltel Stadium