For the homeless in Gainesville, finding food is a daily struggle.
But the city, once labeled fifth meanest to the homeless by the National Coalition for the Homeless, goes through immense efforts to feed its homeless population, despite the ranking.
Institutions like St. Francis House Inc., Porters Community Farm and GRACE Marketplace are offering their services to feed the homeless and help get them back on their feet.
Candice Jones, a volunteer coordinator with St. Francis House, which helps feed and house some of the homeless here in Gainesville, said she’s surprised by the ranking.
While Jones has been asked to not reveal donor’s names, she said churches, businesses, organizations and sororities are among the numerous supporters that contribute food donations to St. Francis House.
“If someone has a catering event at their job, and they have a lot of leftover food, we get that,” she said.
St. Francis House opens its doors between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and feeds an average of 235 individuals a day.
“My overall experience has been a hopeful and grateful one,” said Jeremy Kemp, a 28-year-old Iraq War veteran currently living at St. Francis House.
He said typical lunches and dinners at St. Francis House consist of chicken and other meats and vegetables. Meals change depending on who donates on a given day.
“We’re very appreciative of the ones who donate,” he said. “It’s for a great cause.”
St. Francis House provides the homeless with fresh produce through donations from Porters Community Farm, an organic urban farm located a few blocks away.
Chris Cano, a founder of Gainesville Compost, which works with Porters, said the farm works to help low-income residents in the area, as well as the homeless.
He said the farm offers a “U-Pick-U-Pay What You Can Farm Stand” as one of its services, and community resident plant beds are available for residents in the area to use.
GRACE Marketplace, which stands for Gainesville Regional Alachua County Empowerment, is another institution that works to provide food and shelter for the homeless.
Theresa Lowe, the executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said GRACE Marketplace was created to not only feed the homeless, but also to provide a convenient one-stop location for individuals to receive help getting back toward self-sufficiency.
She said Bread of the Mighty food bank helps GRACE supply breakfast, which consists of coffee, yogurt, fruit and other typical breakfast items. Church groups donate food for its dinners, and GRACE gets pizza from Domino’s Pizza as a treat for residents occasionally.
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is one of the churches that donates food to GRACE Marketplace.
Harvey Ward, the executive director of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Foundation and current candidate for county commissioner, said church members prepare 75 bag lunches that are delivered to GRACE every Thursday.
He said young children at the church help decorate the bags.
“The kids really enjoy it, and it connects them with the whole point of the gospel, which is helping those who are less fortunate,” Ward said.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 7/24/2014 under the headline "Homeless find meals all over"]