A new merger between Gainesville-based food bank Bread of the Mighty and Jacksonville-based Feeding Northeast Florida (FNEFL) is intended to share resources more efficiently across the area.
Bread of the Mighty and Feeding Northeast Florida were already partners of Feed America, a nationwide network of food banks. The merge is part of a nine-county realignment in north Florida, and should help Bread of the Mighty take advantage of the resources available to a larger food bank like FNEFL, according to Susan King, president and CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida.
In the merge, FNEFL took responsibility for Bread of the Mighty’s coverage of Alachua, Gilchrist and Levy Counties, as well as Union County, which was previously served by Florida Gateway Food Bank
“I think the best part is our ability to better serve rural communities, just to be able to, from a data perspective, know exactly where need is,” King said. “Building capacity in communities that need, I think is probably one of our biggest objectives. We also want to be just a strong community partner down here.”
The merge will provide the Bread of the Mighty Gainesville branch of FNEFL with access to FNEFL’s training programs, truck fleets, employee benefits, the data capabilities to determine which underserved, “invisible” rural populations need to be addressed, and how best to partner with their communities.
Food banks like Bread of the Mighty and FNEFL work as “logistics distribution organizations,” according to King. They must partner with community organizations like churches and food pantries to reach specific groups of those in need.
Though it is small, Bread of the Mighty was established 35 years ago, a length of existence that is standard for most food banks, especially the larger ones, according to King. In contrast, FNEFL is only nine years old, created to fill a gap after Second Harvest of North Florida lost its contract with Feeding America and shut down.
With Second Harvest of North Florida gone, 17 Florida counties were left with no food bank to serve them. FNEFL formed to help the immediate area, but with a 21,000-square-foot location and no existing partnerships, it was not large enough to meet the need. Second Harvest of Central Florida, based in Orlando, stepped in to cover nine counties, leaving FNEFL with eight.
A year and a half ago, King said Central Florida came to FNEFL and Second Harvest of the Big Bend and asked for a realignment that would make more geographical sense. After hiring a consultant, the food banks realized that several rural counties like Clay and Bradford would be better served by Bread of the Mighty’s location.
Bread of the Mighty had the location and the established community presence, but it is too small to offer the programming and resources FNEFL has. Within the context of service area realignments, the two food banks merged to make FNEFL’s greater resources available to Bread of the Mighty’s new reach.
“We’re really excited about that to be able to reach into Union County and create new partnerships there,” Sherah English, Bread of the Mighty’s director of partnerships and programs, said. “We are sad to lose the great partnerships we have, but they’re well taken care of with the Tallahassee food bank. So it just is, we get to have more opportunities to help people.”
Bread of the Mighty is a trusted community resource, and King said this merger should not change that.
“We are not here to take over,” King said. “This is staffed locally, will always be staffed locally. We are just a resource to really support the community in a bigger way.”