With Thanksgiving approaching, local nonprofits are focused on feeding the hungry through the holiday season.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the hunger problem in Alachua County, said Marcia Conwell, the 60-year-old president and CEO of Bread of the Mighty Food Bank. The food bank usually distributes nine million pounds of food during a fiscal year but has distributed almost 19 million pounds this year.
“We were buying food left and right,” Conwell said.
One in eight people and one in six children in Alachua County were food insecure in 2018, according to Feeding America.
Conwell said she used to rely on one semi-trailer truck a week to deliver enough fresh meat and produce to feed the hungry in the five North Central Florida counties that the food bank aids. Now, she needs from five to nine trucks per day.
The food bank noticed the changes in different distribution sites, too. Every Wednesday, about 300 to 400 people used to show up at the High Springs Civic Center, located at 330 NW Santa Fe Blvd., she said. Now, about 4,000 to 5,000 people show up.
The food bank partners with The Long Foundation, an organization focused on reducing poverty and hunger locally, to organize Strike Out Hunger, an annual food distribution event held Nov. 10.
Rodney Long, a former Alachua County Commissioner, said he created the event in 2008 to provide for food banks, pantries and the hungry.
Food insecurity is always a major challenge during the holidays, the 63-year-old president and founder said. With job losses due to the pandemic, the need to provide food for the poor is even greater.
But the pandemic also raised new challenges. Volunteers couldn’t hand out Thanksgiving baskets or collect food for food pantries as they usually would. The Nov. 10 event turned into a drive-thru at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, located at 3100 NE 39th Ave.
Long and his volunteers managed to donate about 1,700 turkeys and nonperishables to families in need, he said. While the event started at noon, the organization ran out of everything by 3 p.m.
“Throughout the Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to make sure that we can at least provide some food to families that are in need,” Long said.
325 NW 10th Ave.
Gainesville, FL 32601
Holiday 2020 Food Boxes include nonperishables and chicken, turkey or ham, donations needed by Nov. 23 for Thanksgiving and by Dec. 17 for Christmas, but food will be accepted at all times
6300 NW 13th St.
Gainesville, FL 32653
“Stuff the Charger” food drive until Nov. 30 aims to collect non-perishable food items.
Baskets prepared in November 2018.