Debbie Berry waited in line for two hours for food yesterday at the annual Strike Out Hunger Food Drive at the Alachua County Fairgrounds for Thanksgiving, not just for herself, but for her neighbors as well.
The food drive was held by Strike Out Hunger, a community-wide food drive event, but the food was provided by donors like Farm Share. Farm Share is a large-scale food bank that utilizes inmate labor and volunteers to sort and distribute food – from fresh produce to extra food from grocery stores – across the state of Florida, free of charge. Instead of sending food to landfills, grocery stores can send food to Farm Share’s warehouse to be distributed to those who need it.
Berry said she knows Farm Share collects extra food, so she takes it upon herself to share her food with the other residents of Oak Park Village, a low-income housing complex.
“After I get my food and I get home, I go through everything, take what I need, then I go down to the community room in my building, and I leave it for the other people who can’t get out,” Berry said.
She said she watches what she spends. She budgets, and she eats, but some people don’t.
It was her first time at this specific event, but she and her neighbor go to similar events in Butler and Newberry on weekends.
“I think this event is a wonderful thing that they do because I am surprised at the amount of people who don’t have anything,” Berry said. “We do a lot of sharing in the community room. Whatever you don’t want that someone else can use, they can help themselves, and no one is embarrassed.”
Leighsha Johnson, Distribution Manager at Farm Share, said giving back to those in need is especially uplifting now because it’s close to the holiday season.
“It’s what the community needs, especially after the tragedy of Hurricane Irma,” Johnson said. “People lost a lot of food, and we helped the community out big time.”
Johnson said their busiest week followed Irma, when people lost their power and had to throw away all their food.
“We had a month’s worth of events. People stood in line for hours to get food, and we had to replenish what was lost,” Johnson said.
Donna Hagan, a volunteer at the food drive, said she lost a lot of money while she was supporting her father before he died. She also lost her job at Subway when she had to stay home to take care of her father, and she is still unemployed.
Hagan didn’t intend to volunteer at the event, but as she was parking at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, other volunteers asked for her help, so she went inside to set up, waiting until others had been helped before acquiring the food she needed herself.
“I’m a people person. I like to help them as much as I can, especially seniors. I’m big on that since I lost my father,” Hagan said.
Johnson said she and her team expect to feed about 400-600 households with the help of 20-35 volunteers during the holidays.
“Last year, we served about 20,000 pounds of food, and this year it’s a lot more,” Johnson said.
Berry added that there are a lot of resources in east Gainesville people don’t know about. There are a several churches on the east side that give donations. Mt. Olive Ame Church has two Saturdays during which people can go pick up canned goods for themselves.
“Resources have to go by word of mouth, and all you have to do is ask people. People are good about sharing and telling you where you can go,” Berry said “A lot of northeast Florida needs this. If someone is falling behind on their bills, they obviously can’t afford food,” Johnson said.