More than 3.5 million Floridians, including 850,000 children, were food insecure even before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. When the pandemic hit, the number of Floridians in need of food soared.
In a state where the economy is largely driven by tourism and hospitality – industries disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to travel restrictions, closures, and social distancing measures – many Floridians found themselves out of work and turning for the first time to Farm Share, which provides wholesome food at no cost. Additionally, local and regional food banks throughout Florida were being inundated with requests for food assistance and looking for help to replenish their food stock.
In spite of incurring a $1.2 million dollar budget cut in the 2020/2021 legislative budget, Farm Share rose to the challenge, connecting food-insecure Floridians with the nourishing food they need to survive, having distributed the equivalent of over 100,000,000 meals since the pandemic began. Almost 90 percent of these meals were distributed by Farm Share’s nearly 2,000 statewide regional and local partner agencies that would not have been able to acquire sufficient food for their local communities if it weren’t for Farm Share.
Farm Share has worked tirelessly with its partner agencies to meet the increased demand for nutritious food that peaked at nearly 600 percent. Compounding the challenge was the many parents who found themselves at home with children in virtual classrooms – many of whom typically get their only meals while attending school. The result was lines of cars that grew to 5 and 10 miles long as people lined up before dawn in hopes of accessing food at distributions coordinated by Farm Share and our network of agencies.
From April through July, Farm Share’s output more than doubled, averaging nearly 4 million pounds of food distributed weekly. From March through December 2020, we distributed more than 107 million pounds of food. More than 30 million pounds of which was healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables thanks to our strong partnerships with Florida’s farmers who donate unsold or blemished product directly to Farm Share. Farm Share distributes all of its food free of charge with no costs or shared maintenance fees to persons in need or our partner agencies.
These unprecedented relief efforts were only possible thanks to the federal government stepping up and providing stopgap funding and food resources when it was needed most. Unfortunately, those dollars and resources have now been exhausted, future funding is uncertain and the economic fallout and need for food assistance continues at substantially elevated levels. For this reason, it is critical that during this year’s legislative session, Florida’s leaders and elected officials make food insecurity a priority and allocate sufficient resources to enable Farm Share to continue providing life-sustaining food to Floridian’s affected by the pandemic, and ensure that no person goes hungry and no food goes to waste.
When Floridians don’t know where their next meal will come from, Farm Share is there for them. In the same way, we – and they – need the Florida Legislature to support Farm Share at this perilous time.
Stephen Shelley is the CEO of Farm Share. Prior to joining Farm Share as Chief Operating Officer in 2016, Stephen owned and operated his own law practice for 10 years specializing in family law, business law and general civil litigation. Stephen was promoted to CEO by Farm Share’s Board of Directors in July 2019, following the retirement of founder and former CEO Patricia Robbins. Stephen also gives back to his local community, having served on the Homestead City Council for the last 10 years in the capacity of councilman, vice mayor and mayor. In addition to his service on the Homestead City Council, Stephen also sits on various boards and committees including the Homestead Rotary Club, Homestead Military Affairs Committee, the Florida National Parks Association (past chairman of the Board) and the National Parks Conservation Association Sun Coast Region.