Marion County food pantries faced nearly bare shelves, but local organizations joined forces to help collect enough goods to re-stock these depleted pantries and provide meals for local families.
One organization involved in the collection efforts is the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies, along with a few selected inmates, volunteered at Ocala’s Historical Downtown Park, collecting non-perishable food items. Major Terry Bovaird said the department wants to help the community any way they can.
“You realize that some people don’t even have the basic needs just to survive through the holidays,” Bovaird said. “Recognizing the fact that there is a need for these things, that’s what brought us out here.”
Bovaird explained that the inmates selected were not a threat to the community and were low-level misdemeanor criminals. He also stated the inmates chose this work as service to the community.
“They enjoy it, they love it.” Bovaird said. “It gets them out of the jail, gives them an opportunity to give back to the community.
“They care. Just because they are in jail it doesn’t mean that they don’t care.”
Another organization involved in the efforts was the Salvation Army. Major George Patterson, commander of the Salvation Army in Marion County, talked about the difficulties the organization faced this year due to the growing number of families, having seen an estimated 25 percent increase in the amount of new families requesting help with groceries.
“This year has been difficult for all of us,” Patterson said. “It has been difficult for us to be able to keep enough food on our shelves to provide for those families in need.”
Although the food drive was only planned for one day, Patterson said that there are other ways for residents to get involved in these efforts.
“The opportunity is still available throughout the month,” Patterson said. “But after that, they can call an agency and we’d be glad to receive a food or cash donation. Whatever it might be, help us to meet the needs in our community.”