Thursday, September 26, 2013

Local Organizations Work to Feed their Neighbors

Local Organizations Work to Feed their Neighbors
Story and photographs by José Pérez

Lost in the South Beach glitz and tropical glamor usually associated with South Florida is the fact that hunger is a no stranger to many people that live and work in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties.   A recent national study, in fact, shows that Miami-Dade is one of the United States’ hungriest counties. 

Every month, however, food distribution and feedings are held in different parts of the area to address this serious need.    For example, last Saturday morning, Farm Share teamed up with Christ Fellowship Church, State  Representative Frank Artiles (R-118), and student volunteers from Miami Jackson Senior High School to distribute food at Jackson High.  Within the first hour, 300 families received bananas, romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, plantains, potatoes, frozen lamb, and shelf stable foods such as rice, beans, dried fruit at no charge.   A few hours later, over 700 people had taken food home to their families, said Farm Share’s Mia DeVane.

“Farm Share is the largest fresh produce program in Florida and the only statewide and local food bank program that does not charge a fee for any food it provides to community organizations,” said DeVane.

While this week’s Farm Share event was in Allapattah, the organization, which is based in Homestead, holds similar activities in different parts of the community and they are not alone.

On the third Saturday of every month, a proud group of women in Opa-locka's depressed Magnolia Gardens neighborhood pull from their own humble resources to feed their neighbors. Setting up shop in front of an abandoned grocery store, the group, which is not affiliated with any church or non-profit and receives no help from any government entity, feeds hot meals to single mothers and their children, elderly bachelors, homeless people and shut-in seniors.  Each month, the group, which calls itself GRUB (which stands for “Giving Regardless, United Bodies”) feeds more than 100 people – for free.

The two most prominent faces of GRUB are Diana Smith and her daughter, Kim.   

GRUB feeds people out of their own pockets, from their own meager resources supplemented every now and then with small yet appreciated donations from entities like the South Florida Home Childcare Association.

All of the food prepared is homemade and served across the street from an empty lot on a blighted stretch of Ali Baba Avenue, just blocks from the Opa-locka Police Department.  “We just get together and feed the neighborhood,” said Diana Smith as music played and dominoes smacked on table tops behind her.

During one Saturday’s feeding, Kim Smith went to drop off heaping plates of food to shut-ins in a semi-abandoned building owned by a local church that is both next door neighbor and landlord for that sad building.  As she drove to and from, the younger Smith kept the windows to her car rolled down so she could call out to passerby – most by name – reminding them to come by and “grab a plate.” 

All of this from a woman who was out of work when she, her mother, and other friends and relatives decided to feed their neighbors in Spring of this year.

Why? “90% of the time, people don’t eat,” said Smith.  She added that many of those that come to eat each month are illiterate, isolated, or whose health insurance is lacking.  “We are the forgotten.”

Data published in a recently released study by Feeding America supports Smith’s observations. 

Feeding America found that about sixteen and a half percent of the residents of both Broward and Palm Beach counties are food insecure while less than 13% of the people that live in Monroe County and almost 18% of the people that live in Miami-Dade County meet the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s criteria for food insecurity, which is defined by the USDA as having “limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

The percentage of people with inconsistent or limited food access in the state of Florida is 18.7%. 

Importantly, many of those people in the four county area of South Florida that are considered “food insecure” live above the income threshold established to determine eligibility for food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, (more commonly known as food stamps).  In short, they make too much money to be able to qualify for SNAP and “other food programs.”   How many people in South Florida are food insecure but do not qualify for federal help?   The numbers for Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe are 39%, 34%, 20%, and 32% respectively.

The number of children that are food insecure but do not meet eligibility requirements for SNAP or the Women, Infant & Children’s food program, or WIC, jumps significantly in Miami-Dade where over a third of the children are caught in between a heavy rock and a hungry place.  

“Farm Share absorbs the people that don’t get food stamps,” said Beatriz Lopez, Executive District Secretary to Artiles.

In addition to the bigger community events held each month, Farm Share also serves hundreds of “non profits that pick up food from our facilities and take it back to their communities,” from Monday through Friday, said DeVane.

According to DeVane, “Farm Share has provided more than $40 million in food to those in poverty in Florida” in 2013. State Representative Artiles added that, by reaching out to give food to people in need, Farm Share “saves produce that would be discarded” by farmers because many super markets do not want fruits or vegetables that do not meet a certain aesthetic criteria or what DeVane called “minor imperfections.” 

Giving the extra or unmarketable produce to Farm Share can earn “up to 200% tax credit for farmers,” said DeVane.

*To read this article as it appeared in the South Florida Times, please click on this urlink.