Bread of the Mighty’s first customers of the day arrive right when the doors open at 8:00 am to beat the usually crowded aisles. Friday mornings are the food bank’s busiest time of the week as local organizations, such as churches, stock up for weekend meal distributions. Photos by Lily Wan.

The city of Gainesville is fortunate enough to have a host of organizations and groups that provide warm meals and a helping hand to those in need, such as Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, Gainesville Harvest and Showers of Blessings Harvest Center Food Pantry.

Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, a Gainesville staple since 1987, was able to distribute 4.8 million pounds of food between 2011 and 2012 to the poor. With the economic downturn, that has included an increasing number of families and students. Campaigns like Strike Out Hunger Food Drive and Thanksgiving Basket Giveaway have proposed goals of raising 100,000 pounds of food for needy families in November, recognized as National Hunger Month. Non-perishable food items are donated to Alachua County non-profit food banks and pantries, while the Thanksgiving Baskets are distributed to families through the Alachua County Social Services.

While groups like these collect food and donations from the community throughout the year, their shelves could always be more full. These food banks, like the people they help, are always in need. In fact, just prior to Thanksgiving this year, several food banks and shelters, such as St. Francis House homeless shelter, which provides special holiday meals, reported exceptionally low donation levels. Generally, donations increase near the holiday season.

It isn’t only the homeless, the poor and working poor who are at the food banks and need the support. Students and families are increasingly seeking aid as well. Over 51,000 people in Alachua County are currently living in poverty and about 20 percent of those people are children or seniors.

Many families are frequenting food banks, if only to help supplement their needs when times are really tight. The number of public school students receiving reduced lunch has also increased over the last year, which may be another indicator of the increased needs of Gainesville’s families.

Food banks, like Gainesville Harvest, founded in 1991, seek to stamp out food insecurities such as these. Food insecurity is common among poorer communities throughout the year, not just around the holidays. These individuals and families aren’t always certain that they will have a full meal, if any, in a given day. That’s why autonomous groups like Gainesville’s Food Not Bombs chapter collects leftover food that would otherwise be discarded from places, like Wednesday’s Downtown Farmers’ Market, the Citizen’s Co-op and the Krishna House, and serve it weekly to those in need.

Community driven projects, like the burgeoning Porters’ Community Farm and Garden here in downtown Gainesville, aim to address those needs in a more sustainable way. The small, urban plot is projected to grow up to one ton of food per year, according to Florida Organic Growers, a local non-profit group spearheading the farm’s collaboration with St. Francis House homeless shelter. The Porters’ urban farm project, located only a few blocks away from St. Francis House, plans to start providing the shelter’s food bank with fresh vegetables within the next year.

The goal of projects like these, sprouting up around the nation, is to provide the local community with a means to ensure their own food and economic security by growing some of their food themselves and additionally to ensure a steady supply of healthy, nutritious food to fill food bank shelves and empty bellies year round.

If you would like to help make sure the Gainesville community has a great holiday season and a great year, try contacting one of the following organizations!

Bread of the Mighty Food Bank 
(Check out their holiday food box wish list here!)
325 NW 10th Avenue
Call: (352) 336 – 0839

Catholic Charities Gainesville Food Pantry
Gainesville Regional Office
1701 NE 9th Street
Phone: (352) 372 – 0294
Website here.

Food Not Bombs
Cooking Sunday mornings @ 11 a.m.; Sharing at Bo Diddley Plaza @ 3 p.m.
To contact, email: fnb352[at]lists.riseup.net

Gainesville Harvest
Open from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, Monday through Friday
4550 S.W. 41st Boulevard, Suite 1
(352) 378-3663
Website here.

Tom arrives at Bread of the Mighty early to beat the usual Friday rush and stock up for weekend meal servings at Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Interlachen. “Sometimes you can’t even get through the aisles they’re so busy,” he said, “but it’s good — the community pitching in — especially in these tougher times.”

Bob Liebler, the self-described “warehouse guy” at Bread of the Mighty, arrives to work early to prepare for the day and keep Bread of the Mighty’s shelves full. While the majority of the bank’s donations are from the government and supermarkets, individuals’ donations also help stock the food bank. “[The donations] are a little to one person,” Bob said, “but it all adds up.”