Volunteers in Alachua County ensured no one went hungry this holiday season by striving to “strike out hunger.”
As cars lined up and around The Oaks Mall parking lot, residents from various counties awaited their two bags filled with an array of different foods: grapes, beans, nuts and other staple items to get them through the holiday season.
“You look at people, you look at what they drive, but really don’t know their story,” the Rev. Pearlie Shelton, Upper Room of Greater Gainesville Church of God in Christ, said. “So, it makes me feel good to know we’re helping somebody.”
The season of giving started earlier than usual as “Strike Out Hunger,” the annual food giveaway serving families during the holidays since 2008, occurred Thursday at 9 a.m. for anyone in need of a little extra food.
Organizations from all over Alachua County came out to lend a hand, including The Oaks Mall and Farm Share, Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida, Inc., Alachua County Christian Pastors Association, Pi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., 100 Black Men of America, Inc., Donate Life Florida, Caring and Sharing Learning School and Alpha Phi Alpha.
As a way to “continue to work” after leaving the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners in 2011, the organizer of the event, Rodney Long, 66, president and founder of The Long Foundation, has the ambition to help and feed as many residents as possible.
From this event, he expects to feed around 1,500-1,800, an average of four people per household.
“We know the need, and we sacrifice to make sure we can try to help the need,” Long said.
Being charitable never gets old for Jerri Richaredson, program services coordinator of the Alachua County Public Schools, who has been doing activities as such for 40 years. She has volunteered for “Strike Out Hunger” for the last eight years due to her love of community service.
“Service, it’s all about giving back,” Richaredson said. “If we have the time, we should all just take time out to give to those in need.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Alachua County is $58,354. However, according to CNBC, the total required income to get by before taxes in 2019 was $66,057 in Florida.
“The economy is inflated, but the paychecks are the same,” Darry Lloyd, chief investigator for the Office of the State Attorney, said. “Whatever we can do to assist and make sure folks have enough food with what little bit we can offer, we try to do.”
Sonia Ibarrondo drove through the parking lot, awaiting her two bags of food with a gleeful smile despite the challenges many families like her face.
“Right now, the food is so expensive, that’s why I’m here,” Ibarrondo said.
As the cost of living in Alachua County has risen 1.5% in the last year, any additional assistance provided for these community members goes a long way.
“These are folks that are working, and some of the folks that are on a set income, they don’t have the extra, but just a little bit extra may get them through,” Lloyd said.
Although no one act of benevolence can make a dent in the issue of food insecurity, any good deed goes a long way.
“If only one family says thank you, that’s almost like saying a thousand thank you,” the Rev. Kenyatta Feathers, community liaison of Hospice and Palliative Care, said. “So many people are in need, so many people need help.”
Not only did this event foster communal unity, but it also taught young students an important lesson: to give.
Volunteers from The Caring and Sharing Learning School, located in Gainesville, devoted their time to helping fight food insecurity for those who need a little extra support.
“It just feels good to help them out,” fifth grader Aubrey McKay, 11, said.
Catherine Barenes, an administrator of The Caring and Sharing Learning School, says the school brought out its students to provide them with the experience of “giving back.”
“Our goal is to really educate children to grow up to be global citizens and understand the concept of civics, civil engagement and being actively engaged in their community,” Barenes said.
Fifth grader Braedon Rawls, 10, joined his classmates on the cloudy morning, embodying the definition of “giving.”
“For me, giving back is helping people in any kind of way,” Rawls said.
As the volunteers were relatively short on numbers, Tova Peterson, community family liaison of The Sharing and Caring Learning School, added that the students “made the work lighter” as they provided help while learning valuable lessons.
“It’s more important to be on the giving side than the receiving side,” Peterson said.
As this event only happens once a year, its impacts are timeless.
“When you make somebody else big, you’re becoming big too,” Feathers said. “Big heart, big gear, big love, that’s what it all be about.”