Feeding South Florida distributes tons of food to families at numerous locations, but Royal Palm Beach Commons Park has been a popular site, giving out about 3.4 tons of food over the past year, with more than 600 cars lining up every Wednesday morning.
Councilman Jeff Hmara has been volunteering at the site since the giveaways began last year.
“You try to maintain a presence to the community to get people to come and have the experience,” Hmara said. “The whole idea is to build that sense of belonging and a sense of community.”
Hmara said the project was manned originally by village staff, but much of the work has since been turned over to a loyal team of volunteers.
“We’ve got really good at setting that up and operating it,” he said. “Somebody told us that they’ve been to other [distribution locations], and they said, ‘You’ve got a pretty good system going.’”
Village staff members are still involved as backup, but the number of volunteers fluctuates between 12 and 20 volunteers each Wednesday morning.
All the food comes through Feeding South Florida. The operation will continue at least through September, adding that it is uplifting to see the appreciation of the people receiving the food.
“It’s quite an experience to actually see the people in their cars and pickups, watching their reaction,” Hmara said. “Their gratitude is extreme, and 90 percent of them are looking to thank everybody loading their car. I’ve had people come up with tears in their eyes, and people who just go on about how much of a difference it makes. You can’t just walk away from that without a really good feeling about having made a difference in somebody’s life in a good way.”
Feeding South Florida Executive Vice President Sari Vatske said her organization feeds about 25 percent of the state’s food insecure population.
“During this past fiscal year, we distributed 154 million pounds of food throughout the quad county service area,” Vatske said. “More than 40 million pounds went into Palm Beach County alone.”
She explained that the drive-through method of distribution was in response to the pandemic.
“About 40 percent of our agencies had closed during the pandemic, and there was additional food and perishable food that we needed to distribute. So, when the capacity of our network was maximized, we found additional ways to distribute food and partner with the municipalities, such as Royal Palm Beach,” Vatske said. “Not only do we distribute through those sites, we also work with about 100 nonprofit partners in Palm Beach County, food pantries, food kitchens, but we also have a home delivery meal program, a veterans program, and then we have workforce training, a culinary training program at our Boynton Beach facility, and we do serve families directly from our pantry.”
The food comes from local farmers as well as farmers throughout the state and the nation.
“We also partner with retail stores, manufacturers and distributors,” Vatske said. “Especially during the pandemic, there was an increase in support from the federal nutrition program.”
She added that during the pandemic, Feeding South Florida was only able to meet the increased need through these partnerships.
“While the need is bad, the strength of the partnerships and the community coming together to serve families in need I think was really what brought so many of us through it. It continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise unfortunate situation,” Vatske said. “It’s hard. We see people at some of the toughest times of their life, and with 40 percent of the people relying on our service for the first time, there can be panic, there can be fear, there can be sadness, so if we’re able to provide food for them during otherwise uncertain times, then that was our goal.”
Visit www.feedingsouthflorida.org to learn more about Feeding South Florida.