FEAST Food Pantry reaches out across the county during COVID-19 crisis

Dr. Karen Owen, FEAST Volunteer

Dear Editor:

In Palm Harbor, FEAST Food Pantry has operated for nearly 37 years as a nonprofit distributing food to low-income residents of North Pinellas County.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” explained Board President Tamara Black, who works five unpaid days a week running the operation’s logistics and managing volunteers.

FEAST has experienced a significant increase in families needing food. Before the pandemic, an average of 61 persons a day came in to receive food, which grew to 109 per day by the end of April. FEAST projects an increase in demand of nearly 400 percent from pre-pandemic numbers by the end of August.

Donors have been generous so far. Some have given their CARES-Act checks directly to FEAST. Other donors include stores and small farms, and even public schools that have closed and given FEAST the excess. One woman developed her own fundraising campaign and delivered more than 400 gallons of fresh milk.

“We are eternally grateful to Grace Community Church in Palm Harbor for working with us and allowing us to use their location for our operations,” said Walt Anderson, FEAST’s executive director.

Many neighborhoods and businesses won’t allow food pantries to operate on their grounds, usually for NIMBY (not in my backyard) reasons. But it’s times like these that churches and religious institutions have reliably helped our most vulnerable residents with space, volunteers and resources.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Clearwater coordinated a project to provide home-sewn masks for FEAST volunteers and continues to donate food despite the church’s temporary closure during the pandemic.

Palm Harbor United Methodist Church spearheaded a “Pop the Trunk” food drive in May to benefit local pantries such as FEAST, who gratefully received an entire vanload of food. This drive helped make up for the cancellation of the Spring Postal Workers annual food collection.

Generous residents in Quail Forest (East Lake), Rainbow Farms (Safety Harbor), Highland Lakes (Palm Harbor) and others have created local food drives to collect non-perishable food for FEAST.

In turn, FEAST has been creatively sharing. On Fridays, excess food is brought to Ready for Life Pinellas for their meal-kit distribution to young adults aging out of Foster Care, many just learning to cook for themselves. They also coordinated with the Pinellas Homeless Leadership Alliance to provide 50 “no-cook” bags of food for North Pinellas residents without shelter and living outdoors.

FEAST worked with volunteer seamstresses to include masks in the no-cook bags.  Damia Kelly of Directions for Living, who coordinates with Pinellas Homeless Leadership Alliance to deliver the food, remarked, “we don’t often get this level of support from North County, so we really appreciate FEAST’s no-cook bags! It all helps.”

On Wednesdays, grade-A fresh vegetables from farmfreshfood.com are picked up on the Grace Community Church property. Many of those purchasers also donate an equal amount of healthy produce to FEAST clients win-win for everyone involved.

If you’re having trouble feeding your family for whatever reason, FEAST is your go-to place if you live in Palm Harbor, Crystal Beach, Ozona, Safety Harbor, Eastlake, Oldsmar or zip code 33761.

If you’re a donor, consult the list of needed items FEAST’s Facebook page or donate funds toward operations at feastfoodpantry.com. FEAST is open Tuesday-Friday 9-12.

If you’d like to volunteer, duties include dating, sorting, packaging, and delivering curbside bags of food to the needy if you’re comfortable wearing personal protective equipment for three hours.

Questions can be directed to feast4food@verizon.net. FEAST is located at 2255 Nebraska Ave., Palm Harbor, within walking distance of US Hwy 19.

Dr. Karen Owen
FEAST Volunteer

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