|Ocala, FL -
October 28, 2011|
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.
A line of Marion County residents formed at noon Friday inside the Interfaith Emergency Services complex, some hoping for a box of food for their family and others for a warm meal from Brother’s Keeper.
Across Northwest Second Street, Interfaith warehouse workers sorted through thousands of pounds of food, getting it ready to hand out to citizens and other food pantries in the Ocala area.
Since the “Bring the Harvest Home” food drive began a little more than three weeks ago, about 80,000 pounds of food — 40 tons — have arrived in large trucks, pickups and cars.
It's enough to help three of Ocala's larger food pantries — Interfaith, Brother's Keeper and the Salvation Army — get through most of the last 10 weeks of the year. Smaller food pantries have been picking up food as well.
“It has been overwhelming,” said Karla Grimlsey, Interfaith's executive director.
To put the collection in perspective, 40 tons of food is the equivalent to 64,000 canned goods. The 80,000 pounds can provide enough food to supply 9,250 three-person families for one day.
Grimsley said while the food continues to come in, she has been working with Gerald Ergle, the former Ocala mayor. They are contacting local businesses, organizations and churches to sponsor one week each next year.
They hope to get 52 business to conduct food drives on different weeks so that there will be a steady flow of food coming into the large food pantry, which serves at least 1,000 families per month.
“We hope we don't get to critical levels again next year,” Grimsley said.
This drive began in late September after Grimsley announced the pantry was critically low on food. That's when County Commissioner Mike Amsden proposed the countywide food drive.
That's how the Bring the Harvest Home drive was conceived. The three-week drive began Oct. 4. Though it is officially over, many groups are still collecting and delivering food to the Interfaith pantry.
In this food drive, Interfaith is basically a wholesaler in the business world.
Interfaith collects the food and will distribute it equally among the three larger Ocala pantries. Interfaith gives about 20 percent of its share to other pantries and soup kitchens, such as St. Theresa's Social Soup Kitchen in Belleview.
“They (St. Theresa officials) come by and get a pickup load most every week,” Grimsley said. She was responding to recent criticism that only three big Ocala pantries are benefiting from the drive.
Thomas Curtis, Interfaith's warehouse manager, said when the warehouse has surplus food, or food that will be soon expiring, Interfaith gives it out to other pantries. St. Theresa picked up 400 pounds on Wednesday, records show.
The biggest Bring the Harvest Home donation came from Church of the Springs, which has delivered more than 21,000 pounds to Interfaith.
The Marion County School District collected about 15,000 pounds and Church of Hope donated about 14,000 pounds. Meanwhile, the city of Ocala has collected more than 11,000 pounds so far.
Signature Brands' subsidiary, the Beechnut baby food company, donated nearly six tons of baby food — 12,500 jars.
Other large donations came from the county, including fire departments and library system, Marion County Sheriff's Office, the office of the Marion County Tax Collector, Lions Club and Ocala Fire Department.
Munroe Regional Medical Center delivered a truck load, containing nearly two tons, last week. There are likely other groups and agencies that may have topped 1,000 pounds but has not been officially tallied.
Grimsley said she is also working on thank you cards to send out to all of the agencies. However, she may have to wait until after the holidays to get them all mailed out. Her office was abuzz on Friday.
Outside, Lulu Marente, 27, and Danny Ellis, 23, stood in the Brother's Keeper soup kitchen line, waiting for a hot meal. Both said they have eaten at the soup kitchen and gotten food in the past several months.
“It has really helped my family,” Ellis said.
Curtis, the warehouse manager, said that a Homeless Management Information System computer program allows Interfaith to keep track of people and the food they have been getting from all pantries that utilize the system.
“This way, we can find those people who are trying to live off the food they get from food pantries,” he noted. “We're not Publix.”
He said Interfaith Emergency Services is for families who need food because of an immediate situation has left them hungry. It is not designed to feed families on a long-term basis.
Photo: Alan Youngblood/Ocala Star-Banner
Warehouse manager Thomas Curtis talks Friday about the Bring the Harvest Home food drive that brought in approximately 80,000 pounds at Interfaith Emergency Services in Ocala.