A helping hand in hard times

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

 A truck loaded with 42,000 pounds of food rolled into Dunnellon’s St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. In a coordinated effort between the Farm Share organization and State Representative Larry Cretul, who has an office on S.R. 200, hundreds of local families benefited from the free food.

Out of work or needing some extra help, whatever the circumstance may be – they had food to share. The truck was filled with squash, bananas, corn and Pepsi.

Thomazine McNeil, district senior executive legislative secretary for Cretul, said that they expected more than 400 families and about 24 local agencies to pick up food during the one-day distribution Jan. 2.

Cretul has teamed up with the Farm Share organization, based in Florida City, for the last four years and tries to have a food distribution quarterly. Friday was the first time produce was brought to Dunnellon by the state representative’s team.

The latest Farm Share delivery to Marion County was part of an abundance of food from the organization, which would have gone bad had it not been given away. McNeil got the call just a few days before the actual event needed to take place.

Though it was short notice, plenty of parishioners from St. John the Baptist, the church’s youth group, and the On Top of the World Republican Club came out to bag the food and load it into vehicles.

When recipients checked in, they had to show proof of identification and tell how many people are in the family. Otherwise, no questions are asked.

A family of three or less received two bags of squash, two bags of bananas, and two bags of corn as well as six Pepsis. Families of more than four were given four to five bags of each of the vegetables and fruit and a six-pack of Pepsi. In addition to families, local organizations were each given six boxes of squash, four boxes of bananas, one box of corn and one case of Pepsi.

Hard Times

A Rainbow Acres resident, who did not want to give her name, said she needed the food because no one in her household is working and they are living off her Social Security check. The family of six has two mortgages and will not receive their food stamps until early January.

Carol, a single Dunnellon resident, occasionally needs a little help. She lives on a limited income and said sometimes after paying bills, there is little money left for food.

How Farm Share Began

Dave Fredrichs, who was the manager of a packing house in south Florida, was tired of throwing away fruits and vegetables that were not able to be sold due to the food being the wrong size or shape. Before Farm Share, ugly produce would rot in a landfill.

After watching all produce go to waste Fredrichs decided to do something about it. He placed an ad in the local South Florida newspaper.

Patricia Robbins, chairperson of Farm Share, answered the advertisement, which read: Volunteer Ð no pay. The day she stepped into the packinghouse, Farm Share was officially born, Robbins recalled.

In the beginning Robbins was in charge of calling local farmers and trying to get produce donated. She said within the initial 10 minutes of making the first phone calls she had 10,000 pounds of potatoes to give away.

In addition to produce Farm Share used to give away canned and dried goods but that has since changed. They are not receiving mass quantities of the pantry goods, any longer.

Robbins said this is due to the Òtremendous drop in USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) food in this nation.Ó Each state decides which organizations get the USDA food.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Òis a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low income needy persons, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistanceÓ, according to the USDA Web site. The canned and dried goods usually go food banks instead of organizations like Farm Share. In turn, the food banks will give the food to soups kitchens and various other places.

Even with a lack of dried and canned goods, Robbins said Farm Share does have businesses that donate to the organization. Publix Supermarkets, near the organizationÕs headquarters, gives bread and pastries each morning.

Farm Share, which began more than a decade ago, feeds more than 250,000 families per year.

For more information about Farm Share, call 305-246-3276 or visit www.farmshare.org. For more information on the USDAÕs Farm Bill proposals visit www.usda.gov.