What is the biggest issue facing the world?
COVID-19 might be the obvious answer, but what about before the coronavirus? Or after?
At the top of most lists are crime, unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, and affordable housing. But there is another issue with far less fanfare or headlines that is fundamental to a flourishing community – access to healthy food.
The United States Department of Agriculture has designated that 9.2% of households in the United States live in areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food. That’s 23.5 million Americans.
They call these places “food deserts.”
In Gainesville and the surrounding counties, the Bread of the Mighty (BOM) Food Bank has identified dozens of food deserts in its five-county region of Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, and Levy Counties as well as other residents who are food insecure. According to its studies, over 70,000 people in these five counties are either in a food desert, are food insecure, or suffer from some level of hunger – and over 16,000 of those are children.
Now, these communities face a double crisis – hunger and COVID-19.
It is a complex issue that requires a long-term approach to provide a solution. However, complex issues and long-term approaches require the first steps, and in many cases, the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank is that first step. They are a lifeline for hundreds of families in these communities.
Karen Woolfstead is the Director of Communications/Development for Bread of the Mighty. And while she is used to seeing a lot of food get distributed, these past two months have been noteworthy.
“What our staff is doing are the miracles that are happening here every day.,” she said. “From March 1st until today, we have distributed over three million pounds of food.”
In comparison, BOM distributed 8.4 million pounds of food in 2019, which is about a 50% increase, according to Woolfstead. It’s not an easy task to bring in that amount, but according to her, they have a miracle worker in the front office.
“(CEO) Marcia Cornwell is working with food banks across the country, across the state, to bring food here, and it’s working. I’m amazed at how full the warehouse is – but it’s out as soon as it’s in, and sometimes it doesn’t even make it into the warehouse. It pulls in on semis, and then it’s out on trailers to feed the people.”
She credits Cornwell and the staff but also has praise for the donors who continue to contribute even during a pandemic.
“We are so blessed with what this community does. We are receiving COVID-19 response grants from companies who are committed to hunger relief. But the most incredible donor is our community as a whole. Check after check and on-line contributions have been non-stop. Whether it is $25, $100, $500, or $1,000 or more, the outpouring in the last six weeks has touched our hearts. This community gets that we are the leader in the fight against hunger, and it seems they know what we are up against now.”
Another major contributor has been the grocery industry.
“Food contributions are, of course, down, but we’re still getting donations from supermarkets throughout the five-county region.”
According to Woolfstead, 107 supermarkets, including Publix, Winn Dixie, Walmart, Dollar General, Fresh Market, and Whole Foods, are among the contributors.
“Every one of these stores fills our trucks with donated food.”
Day-in and day-out, BOM is still doing what they do. Receiving massive amounts of food, and distributing it directly to non-profit organizations, who go into the food-insecure communities and feed the hungry. And COVID-19 has only intensified that need.
“The biggest issue in this country before the pandemic was access to food, and that hasn’t changed. It’s become even more important for us to take it closer to where the people are, and that’s what we’ve always done. That’s the food bank we are. We are a distribution partner with Feeding America, which means we distribute the food out. That’s how we’ve always done it.”
And despite the generosity of its donors, there are still specific needs that BOM wants to address.
“The most needed item is money to be used to help us meet the increased need for food,” Woolfstead said. “We are also way down in donations of non-perishable shelf food, including canned vegetables, fruit, meat, peanut butter, rice, soup, crackers, pasta, and chips. We are distributing 50% over our average amount, and every dollar helps us purchase that precious food.”
But despite being 50% above their typical distribution, BOM will keep stepping into the gaps for the underserved of this region.
“We will continue to operate as we always do. With help from the community, we will be able to serve as many as we can. The longer this goes on, the more people will need help. We can’t predict how long or how many will there will be.”
She can, however, predict more miracles coming from Bread of the Mighty.
Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, celebrating 32 years of serving the community, is a private non-profit organization.
We collect, sort, store and distribute donated food and basic essentials to 190+ non-profit agency partners such as food pantries, churches, homeless shelters and other organizations who then distribute food in their communities to directly feed the hungry.
We have a five county service area – Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette and Levy. We’re a Partner Distribution Organization under Feeding America. Our 20,000 square foot warehouse has 2,600 square feet of cooler and freezer capacity. Thanks to our generous donors, we now have a fleet of 11 trucks and vans. We’re on the road five days a week picking up donated food from generous retailers and wholesalers that in turn gets distributed back to the community.
For every $1 donated, Bread of the Mighty Food Bank can provide up to 10 meals.
To make a donation to Bread of the Mighty, go here.