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Project YouthBuild and Farm Share give to Gainesville’s food insecure

Volunteers unpack the unloaded goods from the Farm Share truck and place them into organized bags to give to those who come to receive food. (Tomas Curcio/WUFT News)
Volunteers unpack the unloaded goods from the Farm Share truck and place them into organized bags to give to those who come to receive food. (Tomas Curcio/WUFT News)

Early Friday morning, patient drivers formed a line in a Gainesville parking lot. The second driver to the front of the line sat at the wheel asleep with wired headphones plugged into a phone, another driver sat with her head down and knitted yellow yarn, both waited in their cars for a food drive that does not begin for another hour and a half.

Florida-based nonprofit and food bank Farm Share distributed free food in collaboration with volunteering students of Gainesville’s nonprofit leadership program Project YouthBuild on Friday for food insecure families in Gainesville.

The drive took place at 635 NW Sixth St., where the Dr. Banks & Dr. Cosby Youth Empowerment Center, which houses the Project YouthBuild Campus, is located. The event began at 9 a.m.

Project YouthBuild is a Gainesville leadership program that gives impoverished people between the ages of 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school the opportunity to continue their education, get their high school diploma and other possible credentials or scholarships. As part of the program, students volunteer their time to causes such as this food drive.

Farm Share uses crops from Florida farmers that were going to become waste and distributes the fresh food to families who struggle with food insecurity.

The menu for today’s drive included: raisins, spaghetti sauce, walnuts, beans, peas, corn, rice, frozen meat, blueberries, meat and other goods, but varies between drives. This healthy variety of fresh food is what brings residents to Farm Share’s food drives.

Gainesville resident Norma Riesgo arrived around 6:30 a.m. to the parking lot where the drive takes place to wait in line to receive food.

She values the healthy food that the Farm Share drives allow her to bring to her children as she struggles to put food on her family’s table. She currently receives federal disability benefits and her husband is limited in the amount he can work due to an upcoming shoulder surgery.

Many of the residents in line were hoping to receive food not just for themselves, but for friends and people around them who need the help.

Gainesville resident Kisha Holmes, who arrived around the same time as Riesgo to receive food and similarly is on federal disability benefits, goes to as many food drives as she can.

“It helps me a lot because towards the middle of the month and the end of the month you run low on food, and I can give other people, other families, some of the food as well,” Holmes said.

Farm Share passes through Gainesville often, with the most recent on Dec. 15, and it's consistent throughout the year, having distributed food in Gainesville eleven times in 2023. Friday’s event was the first food drive at the Project YouthBuild Campus in 2024.

While the event was listed on Farm Share’s calendar as lasting until noon, Jamie Pantanjo, fiscal analyst for Project YouthBuild, advises those wishing to come to a drive in the future to be wary, as the food often runs out in under two hours.

While he has worked 18 years as the accountant for Project YouthBuild, Pantanjo volunteers to come out for these drives, sitting at the front desk where volunteers sign in.

“I want to give my time,” he said. “I don't make much money, but I find the reward of seeing these kids and the community that we built. I think it's a great, unique opportunity.”

Gainesville resident Christina Quinene, who arrived at 5:30 a.m. to receive food and is also on federal disability benefits, said the lines have been longer recently than in the last few years, which she said is due to heightened food insecurity.

“I’m appreciative that we are all still able to get things, there are other cities that are not as fortunate,” Quinene said.

Farm Share will return to the Dr. Banks & Dr. Cosby Youth Empowerment Center for another food drive on Feb. 9.

Tomas is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing