Tallahassee addresses food insecurity

Food items being packaged for local food pantry. Photo by Kennedy Smith

As a community, the city of Tallahassee is coming together in hopes of decreasing their high food insecurity rates. 

Organizations like Good News Outreach, Second Harvest of the Big Bend, and FAMU’s physicians in training are working diligently to provide food to individuals and families who are in need. These organizations are helping through food pantries, holiday food drives, and food deliveries.

Second Harvest of the Big Bend is a member of the nation’s largest food assistance network, Feeding America. Reports indicate that its service areas, which include 11 Florida counties, has the highest level of food insecurity in the state. Those counties include Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, and Wakulla county. 

Second Harvest of the Big Bend feeds 11,503,956 people annually. According to their Hunger Facts, there are 150,000 individuals who are food insecure in those counties. 

Shari Hubbard, director of communications for Second Harvest of the Big Bend, said that COVID-19 has increased the food insecurity level in our service area by 50 percent.

“Kids at Title 1 schools that were once getting two meals a day, all of a sudden weren’t at school, so they weren’t getting those meals,” Hubbard said.

Feeding America’s 2020 Projected Overall Food Insecurity Rate map, shows Leon county’s food insecurity rate at a projected 16 percent, a 2.9 percent increase from 2018. 

In hopes of confronting this crucial issue, FAMU’s physicians in training, created a Thanksgiving Canned Food Drive this year that was held from Nov. 24 to Dec. 4.

“People were able to donate on campus in Coleman [Library] as well as members of the E-board did socially distanced pickups,” said Korey Creary, vice-president of PIT. 

President of PIT Arianna Bell said the vision behind the drive was to give back and take the added stress off of families. 

“This holiday season is tougher than most with COVID, so if we can just provide them with their next meal then we have fulfilled our purpose for the drive,” Bell said. 

Many community leaders and organizations have not been able to provide food to families and individuals experiencing food insecurity due to COVID. 

William E. Hudson Jr, interim vice president of student affairs at FAMU and expert in-home and community-based services, said that this is his first year not sponsoring a Thanksgiving meal for FAMU students who are in need because of COVID. 

“I sponsor Thanksgiving dinner for our students who are homeless or here over the holidays that may live off-campus or students that are bound and can’t go home for the holiday. I met them at the cafeteria, and we have Thanksgiving brunch together just so they know that we care and we’re here for those students,” Hudson said. 

Good News Outreach, a faith-based nonprofit organization, and ministry runs a food pantry, senior grocery delivery program, men’s prison reentry program, and an affordable housing community. 

Donald Parks, executive director at Good News Outreach, said this year they have distributed over 100 tons of food.

“No single agency or ministry can possibly address all of the needs of food-insecure folks in our community, unfortunately… We provide a food pantry every Wednesday and Thursday. Folks pick up a bag of groceries and a bag of frozen food, depending on the family size it could feed them for about 3-5 days out of the week,” Parks said.

According to Good News Outreach’s September 2020 Pantry Recap, they served 14,161 people in the community from Jan. to Sept. In one bag there is a combination of starches, canned goods, and proteins, respecting any dietary restrictions an individual may have.

Despite some organization’s efforts being halted as a result of COVID, Parks said that the virus has “been a great stimulus for a great increase” for Good News Outreach’s programs. 

In a Good News Outreach November 2020 newsletter, more than 1,500 people have been served each month since April.

The giving doesn’t stop at Thanksgiving, many of these organizations are planning a Christmas centered food drive as well. Hubbard confirmed that Second Harvest of the Big Bend will be having a holiday meal drive-thru distribution on Dec 19. 

There is a long way to go in ending the food insecurity plaguing Tallahassee, but the community is doing everything they can to make a difference.