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2020 UPDATE – NWFL Food Insecurity in a Pandemic

COVID has been a true challenge for nearly every organization, family, individual, and the most at-risk within our communities. In addition to adopting completely new safety guidelines for day-to-day operations, Destin Harvest has had to implement new food sourcing and distribution initiatives to meet the inflation of local hunger this year. 

Food insecurity escalated to an all-time high in March. Large-scale shutdowns, food supply chain disruptions and shortages left our most vulnerable in a devastating predicament when the pandemic started.

Zucchini squash, almond milk, cucumbers from Farm Share in April

Those within our communities that have the greatest needs were left without access to toilet paper, hand sanitizer, meats, non-perishables, and many other regular necessities. Many working families were uncertain where they would secure their next meal. Thousands in Okaloosa and Walton County were already facing food insecurity prior to COVID-19. 

By partnering with other food banks, responders, and establishing new resources to assist in this major crisis, DH helped organize, supplement, and host some of the biggest feeding efforts in NWFL to date.

An immediate answer came from a food bank called Farm Share. Farm Share connects quality bulk foods for free to feeding programs throughout the state of Florida. Through the assistance of groups such as PERT, Harbor Docks, Event Tents, and many others, DH began deploying an additional 40,000 pounds of fresh and non-perishable Farm Share foods every week.

Farm Share pallets of kids’ yogurt

DH’s trucks were already distributing roughly 35k pounds of food a week through daily grocery store donations.

At the beginning of the year, DH expanded routine grocery store pick-ups to the WalMart, Publix, and Winn Dixie locations in Niceville, Bluewater Bay, Defuniak, and Freeport. As a beneficiary of Impact 100 of NWFL, DH received the first of 2 refrigerated trucks in April to facilitate pick-ups at the new stores.

The new truck!! Thank you Impact 100 of NWFL!!

The first refrigerated truck, a 2016 International 4300, rolled into the Destin parking lot the same morning the lift gate broke off one of DH’s primary trucks from a Farm Share load. What timing!

In addition to picking up new grocery stores, the Impact 100 truck immediately mobilized pallets of Farm Share foods to forty overwhelmed recipient feeding programs throughout Okaloosa and Walton County.

DH distributed Farm Share foods to food pantries and food box programs, shelters, churches, and then quickly organized mass drive-through food giveaways, jointly with other teams such as United Way, FWB Police Department, P.E.R.T., Event Tents, Harbor Docks, NWFL Fairgrounds, City of Destin, Food For Thought, The Matrix Community Outreach Center, and others. Thousands of people showed up to these food giveaways.

Volunteers set up stations at Morgan’s Sports Complex as hundreds fill the parking lot.
Food giveaway Morgans Sports Complex COVID relief
Morgan’s Sports Complex Drive-thru Food Giveaway 04/19/2020

 Farm Share foods were hauled in twice a week from Quincy, FL on a 40’ semi-trailer. These provisions buffered daily food deliveries to feeding programs with ample surplus to host drive-through food distributions each weekend. During the first two months of the pandemic, the drive-through distribution events would draw up to 1,200 cars.  

Morgan’s Sports Complex Drive-Thru Food Giveaway 04/19/2020

In May DH secured a food source to provide 600 to 1,200 boxes of fresh produce each week. City Produce, a local produce distributor, was awarded a USDA Farmers to Families Food Box contract that provided DH an additional 15k to 30k pounds of boxed fresh carrots, potatoes, apples, strawberries, grapefruit, and other nutritious produce items each week. DH teamed up with United Way of Emerald Coast, FWB Police Department, and the NWFL Fairgrounds to move the produce boxes, along with surplus Farm Share foods, through multiple food giveaways at The Northwest Florida Fairgrounds.

DH moved over 325k pounds of food each month in April, May, and June. In all 13 years of food rescue and distribution, not once has DH secure over 230k pounds in one month.

One of DH’s daily truckloads

The Fort Walton Beach Police Department not only volunteered at every food giveaway to assist with traffic control, they were an immense help partnering with local organizations and churches, getting food boxes directly out to at-risk neighborhoods.

By Memorial Day weekend, the number of vehicles that showed up at the events began to drop. Short-term rentals opened back up, people returned to seasonal work, and unemployment claims began processing. On limited income streams, working locals were able to afford groceries again.

In addition to daily food rescue and distribution in Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, Bluewater, Crestview, Defuniak, and Freeport, DH continued to mobilize USDA boxes and sourced other food opportunities during the summer.

All year and always on a whim, DH could truly depend on the generous time, energy, vehicles, fuel, and refrigerator space of Harbor Docks and Dewey Destin’s. Harbor Docks Fish Market provided use of their 40’ tractor trailer to make multiple Farm Share runs. Their entire crew would assist DH with loading pallets onto food trucks and storing surplus in walk in coolers on pretty much a daily basis.

Harbor Docks Fish Market loading Farmers to Families Meal Boxes from their refrigerated trailer onto a DH food truck.

When DH’s trucks were unable to spread Farm Share or USDA Boxes out to smaller recipient programs, Parker Destin, a local restaurant owner, would arrive with a refrigerated van from Dewey Destin’s Seafood to help move the foods wherever they were needed.  None of what DH accomplished, in terms of securing new sources of fresh and nonperishable foods to address large-scale food insecurity in a pandemic, could have been possible without these valuable partners.

Harbor Docks Fish Market and Parker Destin loading up large sacks of potatoes to distribute out to agencies in Defuniak and South Walton

DH teamed up with Crop Drop, Society of St. Andrews, and United Way of Emerald Coast in October and distributed 38k pounds of USDA’s FTF meal boxes at the NWFL Fairgrounds. These identical boxes had more than produce. There were popcorn chicken tenders, liquid eggs, cheese, butter, milk, sour cream and other nutritious and sought-after items.

1296 FTF meal boxes went out at NWFL Fairgrounds and to several feeding programs in Fort Walton.

The need for food will continue to grow into the holidays.  Seasonal work has already shut off and those who rely on it to financially carry them will be pinching pennies until Spring and Summer. DH will continue to work extra hard to meet the needs of 40 recipient feeding programs in Okaloosa and Walton.

Food rescue and hunger relief requires local support more than ever right now. The nature of DH’s operation, capturing time-sensitive foods and distributing to feeding programs for free the same day, is tremendously efficient. It only costs DH 14 cents to distribute a meal, or one pound of food, to a feeding program. For $30 a month, DH can distribute over 210 meals to 40 feeding programs in Okaloosa and Walton County. DH needs that type of commitment from hundreds of locals monthly to maintain the operation and continue to grow throughout the panhandle.

To learn more about how you can support DH please visit www.destinharvest.org/causes to become a Harvest Advocate or donate directly to COVID 19 Hunger Response. At the time of publishing this update, both campaigns go directly to DH’s operation costs.

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On the Front Lines of Hunger During COVID-19

At the beginning of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, Destin Harvest had to secure new sources of food as grocery stores and local retailers were completely tapped out. Utilizing all it’s resources, DH and partners began moving Farm Share foods from Quincy into Okaloosa and Walton County to meet an immediate need. During that time, City Produce landed a contract with USDA to provide DH 15k – 30k additional pounds of fresh produce weekly.

CLICK HERE to find out where can receive food.

Unfortunately the local economy still suffers as many small, locally-owned businesses have closed their doors for good. Feeding programs all over the panhandle are swamped with new clients. In addition to daily pick ups from local grocery stores, DH continues to distribute USDA Farmers to Families Meal Boxes to overwhelmed food pantries, churches, shelters, and soup kitchens.

COVID Food Relief

The logistics of moving over 300k pounds of food each month since the pandemic has really put a strain on program operations. A lift gate completely broke off during a Farm Share run several months ago. The same truck just had repairs totaling over $4,000 just this month alone. Three refrigerator units quit working and cost DH an additional $2,300 to repair. We are in the process of having the lift gate welded back together, which will run about $1,000.

DH has more drivers on the road and is moving more food than ever. Each month, DH is at least doubling the volume of record previous months.

DH’s operation is working extra hard this summer to meet a growing need with limited resources.

Please consider helping DH continue it’s effort to bridge the gap between food surplus and local hunger during this challenging time.

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Farmers to Families Food Box Giveaway at NWFL Fairgrounds

Through the coordinated effort of Destin HarvestUnited Way Emerald CoastNorthwest Florida FairFort Walton Beach Police DepartmentBigun’s Hope Disaster Response Services inc, and others, 30,000 pounds of fresh veggies and fruit were distributed out 300 to 400 cars and several local churches and feeding programs this morning. The produce was made available through the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. We plan to continue this effort at the fairgrounds for as long as the resources last and the need prevails. We are truly fortunate for the leadership and coordination of all our community partners!

This new program is one of three ways DH is responding to the mass hunger needs created by the local economic damages of COVID-19.

To learn more about what DH is doing to address rampant food insecurity in Okaloosa and Walton County in response to the Coronavirus, click on the link below.

http://destinharvest.org/2020/05/18/covid-19-and-its-impact-on-local-hunger-in-nwfl/

To make a donation for COVID-19 Hunger Response CLICK HERE

Here are some pictures and videos of the event this past Saturday at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds.

Snapshot of USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Giveaway at NWFL Fairgrounds
Forklifting pallets of mixed fruits and veggies off City Produce’s trailer.
Loading up the trunks of cars with boxes straight from the pallets
All 1,200 boxes had the same 25 lbs. of apples, oranges, grapefruit, potatoes, and onions
United Way of Emerald Coast, Destin Harvest, Biggun’s Hope, and Parker Destin.
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COVID-19 and its Impact on Local Hunger in NWFL

Destin Harvest has never experienced the need as great as it is right now. All throughout NWFL, hundreds of families that depend on seasonal work have lost their fulltime income, or are now working minimum hours at reduced wages, due to the devastating economic damages incurred by Coronavirus. These hardworking families and individuals rely on full-time seasonal work to carry them financially for eight months to a year and require additional part-time to full-time work just to have disposable income.  

Local food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, churches, and similar efforts have been overwhelmed by food insecurity prior to COVID-19. Some agencies have reduced their services or closed altogether. The programs that continue to operate are on the front lines every day and cannot possibly meet the mounting need.

DH has been securing more food than ever by partnering with other responders, food banks, and reaching out to new resources to assist in this major crisis. An immediate relief has been Farm Share foods, a statewide program that warehouses top quality perishable and nonperishable foods and provide access for free to feeding programs throughout Florida. Through the assistance of groups such as PERT, Harbor Docks, Event Tents, and many others, DH began mobilizing an additional 50k pounds every week of fresh fruits, vegetables, drinks, eggs, meats, and nonperishable items.

Farm Share Food Drive at Morgans Sports Complex 4/11/2020

DH has been distributing these foods out to recipient feeding programs and organizing mass drive through food box giveaways, jointly with other teams throughout Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton County. DH continues to make Farm Share runs to Quincy weekly and distributes it all out for free to local feeding programs throughout the week.

As Farm Share foods address the needs of local feeding programs, DH is now utilizing another resource to continue to provide for mass drive through food box giveaways. USDA launched a program in direct response to food insecurity nationwide called Farmers to Families Food Box program. USDA is buying up 3 billion in agricultural yield as farmers prepare hundreds of thousands of food boxes. Produce distributors throughout the country are securing the boxed fresh produce from the farmers and delivering directly to feeding sites.

DH is teaming up with United Way of Emerald Coast this Saturday, May 23rd, to distribute 1,200 boxes to cars at the NWFL Fairgrounds in Shalimar. Each box weighs 25 pounds and will be made up of fruits and veggies.

Combining daily food pickups from grocery stores (30k pounds a week), weekly Farm Share runs (20k – 40k pounds a week), and USDA’s FTFFB program (30k pounds a week), DH is currently mobilizing between 80k to 90k pounds of free food into Okaloosa and Walton County every week! These resources and combined efforts have been crucial to addressing the increasing local demand for food.

To learn how you can support our efforts, follow the link below.

COVID-19 Hunger Response Campaign

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